NEXT WEEK, Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction will feature 28 premium art works, including three body prints by David Hammons. For about a decade, from the late 1960s to late 70s, Hammons used grease, pigment, and his own body to create the unique, signature works. All three of the untitled monoprints up for auction were made in 1975. The lots will be offered on May 19 in New York.

A self portrait of Hammons opens the auction. Produced on a black ground, the image depicts the artist in profile wearing a ribbed long-sleeved shirt, meanwhile, as described by Sotheby’s, “amorphous impressions of the artist’s fingers trail down the frame. The wispy imprints of Hammons’s fingers abstract the artist’s portrait without sacrificing its fine details; pressed imperfectly against the surface.”

 


Lot 101: DAVID HAMMONS, “Untitled (Body Print),” 1975 (grease and dry pigment on paper, 25 ½ x 19 ¾ inches / 64.8 x 50.2 cm). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000

 

The trio of body prints is from the same collection and has been privately held for nearly half a century. The works were originally acquired by a Washington, D.C., collector directly from Hammons, the same year they were produced. According to Sotheby’s, the body prints have never been exhibited publicly.

NEW YORK-BASED HAMMONS was living and working in Los Angeles when he began making body prints. At once figurative, conceptual, and abstract, the works are similar in nature to x-ray imagery.

Last year, the Drawing Center in New York presented “David Hammons: Body Prints, 1968–1979,” the first museum exhibition dedicated to the artist’s body prints. Drawing from public and private collections, the show was curated by Laura Hoptman, the center’s director. In exhibition catalog published to accompany the show, she wrote that the inventory of body prints by the artist is unknowable.

“From their earliest presentations, Hammons’s body prints were popular with the public, and Hammons sold and gave away number of them. Such was the artist’s generosity during these early years that there is no record of how many body prints were made in total, nor where many of them are today,” Hoptman wrote. “The more that come to light, the more complex the series becomes, with body prints incorporating objects like bits of lace, straw, and colored paper, and displayed on supports ranging from doors and windows to shaped Plexiglas.”

“Such was the artist’s generosity during these early years that there is no record of how many body prints were made in total, nor where many of them are today. The more that come to light, the more complex the series becomes…” — Laura Hoptman


Lot 126: DAVID HAMMONS (b. .1943), Untitled (Body Print), 1975 (grease and dry pigment on paper, 29 x 23 inches / 73.7 x 58.4 cm). | Estimate $500,000-$700,000

 

Since that text was published, three previously unseen examples of Hammons’s body prints have come to light. The current auction record for a body print by Hammons is more than $1.6 million for “Untitled” (1975), a full-color, two-sided body print with mixed-media elements that sold at Sotheby’s New York on Nov. 16, 2017. The result was more than three times the high estimate.

The current lots are unembellished body prints produced with grease and pigment, each estimated to sell for north of half a million dollars. The high mark for such works is $879,000, reached at Christie’s New York on May 16, 2019, when an Untitled Body Print (circa 1970) sold for just over the estimate. CT

 

* Sources: Art Price, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s. Auction results include Buyer’s Premium fees, unless otherwise noted. Estimates do not include fees

 


Lot 127: DAVID HAMMONS, “Untitled (Body Print),” 1975 (grease and dry pigment on paper, 29 x 23 inches / 73.7 x 58.4 cm). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000

 

“David Hammons: Day’s End” (2014-21) is on permanent view in Hudson River Park, adjacent to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York

 

FIND MORE The New York Times recently reported on Fairchain, a new tech start-up using digital contracts and certificates of title and authenticity to help artists obtain resale royalties

 

BOOKSHELF
“David Hammons: Body Prints, 1968-1979” accompanies The Drawing Center exhibition and includes an introductory essay by Laura Hoptman, text and photographs by Bruce Talamon, and a conversation between Linda Goode Bryant and Senga Nengudi. The fully illustrated volume can be read for free online. “L.A. Object & David Hammons Body Prints” documents the exhibition of the same name at Tilton Gallery. “David Hammons Yves Klein / Yves Klein David Hammons” was published to coincide with the 2014 exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum. “EyeMinded: Living and Writing Contemporary Art” by Kellie Jones features an interview with David Hammons. “Pray for America” (1969) by Hammons, one of the body prints featured in the exhibition, served as the promotional image for “Tradition and Conflict: Images of a Turbulent Decade 1963-1973” at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The work was presented in the 1985 show, illustrated the exhibition poster, and covered the catalog. A Hammons body print also covers the recently published volume, “The Soul of a Nation Reader: Writings by and about Black American Artists, 1960-1980.”

 

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