Magazine article Artforum International

David Hammons: Zwirner & Wirth

Magazine article Artforum International

David Hammons: Zwirner & Wirth

Article excerpt

Everyone I asked about the Miles Davis painting that was included in this year's Whitney Biennial, a lively Basquiatesque oil on canvas from 1991 titled RU Legal, immediately assured me that it was actually "by" or an "intervention of" David Hammons, as if this "solved" how or why this painting came to be displayed. While I have no interest in refuting the contention that the painting appeared at Hammons's behest, I have a lot of interest in what such an appearance and its attendant obfuscation might mean. Hammons's name is not listed in any museum materials or in the Biennial catalogue. Described variously as "elusive," "enigmatic," and a "trickster," certainly a scholar of irony's mise en abyme (call it that old black magic), Hammons moves by feints and dodges. So while his "participation" in the Biennial could be seen as, I guess, a curatorial coup, it could just as easily reveal that the sport is at the organizers' expense: The purposely recalcitrant and unverifiable gesture leaves them with rumormongering and a painting, not by Hammons, which seems to ask anyone looking into it, RU4 Real?

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The eleven works in the recent Hammons show at Zwirner & Wirth ranged from Untitled, 1987, a basketball hoop and backboard mosaicked in bottle caps with bottle-cap and Super Ball extensions to Untitled (Basketball Drawing), 2004, which is played as much as drawn by "dribbling" a basketball on paper to generate a dynamic abstraction. The drawing in its gilded frame slants out from the wall, a found suitcase stashed behind it, complicating both its economy and its stability. Since the exhibition was allegedly put together without him, Hammons's nonparticipation, while not necessarily confounding everything, becomes an issue when one considers Basketball Installation, 1995, which consists of a tree trunk, partially painted white and supporting a white basketball hoop, an African vessel housing a basketball, and scuff marks radiating across the white wall. Since there are photos in existence of Hammons himself installing similar wall drawings, by repeatedly bouncing the basketball, what does it mean for someone else to have played the game? Hammons aficionados have been reluctant to admit that he might play conceptual tag-team with Sol LeWitt, but, occasioned by forces willing to profit without him, the wall marks put a new spin on "nothing but net. …

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