NEARLY 30 YEARS AGO, David Hammons traveled to North Carolina to view the work of “outsider” artists. The elusive artist, who often uses found objects in his own work, had signed on to co-curate “Outside Insight” at Clockwork Gallery in New York.
To identify the artists and works to be included in the exhibition, Tom Finkelpearl, then director of the gallery, invited Hammons, and a couple of others involved with the show, on a 1987 trip to Rocky Mount, N.C. It was the first time Hammons, an Illinois-born, New York-based artist who began his career in Los Angeles, had been to the South.
Thomas J. Lax, an associate curator in the Department of Media and Performance Art at the Museum of Modern Art, spoke to Finkelpearl, who currently serves as commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, about the experience with Hammons for Triple Canopy magazine.
It was a typical road trip. One night, they stayed in a crappy hotel where they later discovered the entire roof was decorated with sculptures by one of the artists they were considering. Returning from a bar, they spotted a Ford Galaxie in the parking lot. Finkelpearl says Hammons liked the name of the car so much that he insisted everyone call him “Galaxie” for the rest of the trip.
In “Call Me Galaxie,” Finkelpearl says they ended up taking three trips to North Carolina. Two in the fall of 1987—the first for research, visiting artist’s studios and homes; the second to pick up the art. After the exhibition, they headed South for a third time in the spring of 1988 to return the art.
The introduction to the Q&A notes that “the exhibition captures an important chapter in the development of Hammons’s artistic sensibility. “Outside Insight” evinces his identification with vernacular African-American cultural forms, self-effacing relationship to authorship, and profound sense of the value of everyday objects and gestures.”
According to Finkelpearl, Hammons was very intent on listening to the Southern artists explain their work and understanding where they were coming from and what inspired them.
Hammons and sculptor Ed McGowin, who co-curated the show, designed special installations for the works. They created unique structures meant to look like the outsider artist’s homes, replicating the environments from which the art came. Although the exhibition garnered little attention, it likely had a pivotal influence on Hammons’s perspective.
DAVID HAMMONS, “Untitled,” 1989 (glass and silicone glue). | Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 1990. Accession Number: 90.23
“He was always interested in outsider art, but his interest had been more theoretical. This exhibition was a bigger immersion, and I imagine it cemented something,” Finkelpearl says.
“[Hammons] was always interested in outsider art, but his interest had been more theoretical. This exhibition was a bigger immersion, and I imagine it cemented something.” — Tom Finkelpearl, Triple Canopy
Shortly before the trip South, Hammons created “Higher Goals” (1986-87), a public art installation in Brooklyn, N.Y., composed of five telephone poles clad in more than 10,000 bottle caps and mounted with basketball hoops and nets. In 1989, the year after the outsider art exhibition, one of his works was an elegant untitled sculptural object composed of dozens of Night Train liquor bottles, now in the collection of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.
In March, Mnuchin Gallery in New York is presenting “David Hammons: Five Decades,” a survey of the artist’s evolving practice from the late 1960s to present, In anticipation of the exhibition, which is described as the first of its kind in 20 years, the conversation between Lax and Finkelpearl gives great insight into a significant period of Hammons’s creative arc. CT
TOP IMAGE: David Hammons standing in front of his Slauson Avenue Studio in 1974 | Photo by Bruce W. Talamon, Courtesy Bruce W. Talamon
Over the years, David Hammons’s work has been captured in a pair of collectible catalogs. Published in 1991, “David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble” celebrates two decades of his practice. More recently, “L.A. Object & David Hammons Body Prints,” offers an historical overview of the artist’s practice and the Los Angeles assemblage movement of the 1960s and 70s. In 2014, “David Hammons/Yves Klein Yves Klein/David Hammons” was published to coincide with an exhibition juxtaposing the work of the two artists at the Aspen Art Museum, and a catalog authored by Columbia University professor Kellie Jones will accompany the forthcoming Mnuchin exhibition.