A BASKETBALL HOOP with a frosted glass backboard adorned with lights and chandelier crystals by David Hammons sold for more than $8 million last fall. Created in 2000, the untitled work was the cover lot for Phillips Contemporary Art Evening sale on Nov. 11, 2013, and the hammer price ($8,005,000 with fees included) was a record for the artist, who consigned the work for sale directly.

The impressive price landed Hammons among the most expensive living American artists. Today artnet News published a list of the top 10 based on sales of their works at auction. Jeff Koons ($58.4 million) topped the list, followed by Jasper Johns ($28.6 million) and Christopher Wool ($26.5 million). Hammons, the only black artist on the list, ranked No. 8. Based on the findings of artnet News, the auction market value of his work surpasses that of any other living black artist.

artnet News notes Hammons’ reputation for independence:

“Unlike most of the other contenders on this list, David Hammons—much of whose work reflects his devotion to Civil Rights and the Black Power movement—has kept the art world at arm’s length for most of his career, in part by refusing to join a commercial gallery.” — artnet News

artnet News also points out a significant trend in Hammons’ sales:

“Thus far, five of the 70-year-old artist’s works have broken the million-dollar mark. Though he is known for his works from the 1970s and ’80s, it’s his work from the ’90s and 2000s that has fetched the highest prices at auction.” — artnet News

Hammons’ previous auction record was $2.266,500 million (with fees included), achieved Nov. 9, 2011 at Sotheby’s for a 1996 untitled mixed media sculpture composed of African masks, mirror and wire.

FOR HALF A CENTURY, Hammons has been exploring the intersection of race, poverty and American culture, often through a lens of wit and irony (i.e. the ornate basketball hoop). Throughout his career his mixed-media works, sculpture, installations and performance art have garnered critical appreciation, all the while he has remained autonomous, eschewing the trappings of the blue-chip art world. He often works with found objects and materials drawn from stereotypical references to African American culture such as chicken wings, dreadlock clippings and Night Train liquor bottles and the outdoors have served as his exhibition space where he has sold snow balls in the street and installed real porcelain urinals on trees.

Kellie Jones interviewed Hammons for her book “EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art” and he explained his reservations about presenting art in traditional gallery spaces:

“The worst thing in the world is to say is, ‘well I’m going to see this exhibition.’ The work should instead by somewhere in between your house and where you’re going to see it, shouldn’t be at the gallery. Because when you get there you are already prepared, your eyes are ready, your glands, your whole body is ready to receive this art. By that time you’ve probably seen more art getting to the spot than you do when you get here. That’s why I like doing stuff better on the street because the art becomes just one of the objects that’s in the path of your everyday existence. It’s what you move through and it doesn’t have any seniority over anything else.”
— David Hammons, “EyeMinded”

Despite this view, over the past several years he has staged solo exhibitions with Domonique Levy and the now defunct L&M Arts gallery on the tony Upper East Side, shows that given the location, ironically amplified his independent spirit, unique perspective and subject matter.

Hammons began his career in Los Angeles, where he first become known for his Body Prints series in the late 1960s. The imprints of various parts of the body made with grease on paper are translucent giving them the appearance of x-rays. The prints have been featured prominently in recent museum exhibitions. “America the Beautiful” 1968 (lithograph and body print) was included in “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980” in 2012-2013, and “The Door (Admissions Office)” 1969 (wood, acrylic sheet, and pigment construction) is currently on view in “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the 1960s” at the Brooklyn Museum.

“L.A. Object” examines Hammons’ Body Print series in the context of the Los Angeles assemblage movement and “David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble” documents two decades of his practice. Hammons currently lives and works in New York where his red, black and green “African-American Flag” (1993) flies outside the Studio Museum in Harlem. CT


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