David Hammons once commented that “outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol.” For the past 50 years, Hammons has created a vocabulary of symbols from everyday life and messed around with them in the form of prints, drawings, performances, video, found-object sculptures, and paintings. Many of the results have indeed been outrageous, and most all of them have had a distinct kind of magic, derived from the transformation of everyday objects into allegories of the experience of the outsider in the contemporary world, whether an artist, a stranger, a madman, or, most persistently, a person of color.
Since the late 1970s, David Hammons has employed mass-produced, found-objects of Africana—acquiring masks and statuettes from street vendors as well as online retailers—which are then included in his sculptures. Throughout Hammons’ career, he has looked to Duchamp and his deployment of the readymade in art. Pointing to the artist’s interest in the aesthetics of Zen Buddhism and Japanese spirituality, this Untitled (n.d.) sculpture is a continuation of the Hammons’ work in the late 90s, combining amateur copies or pastiches of African masks and fetish sculptures. While frequently juxtaposing culturally charged objects—crossing racial, cultural, and geographic boundaries—his work explores issues of identity and Black representation, simultaneously challenging art historical and socio-political constructs, in order to reframe conventional narratives.