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.
Hammons settled in New York in the 1970s and began to work with found objects and installation in the spirit of Dada and Arte Povera as well as California-based assemblage. Hammons gravitated toward objects particularly coded as “black,” from grease to chicken bones and hair, as well as simple, cheap materials like rocks and empty wine bottles. In this Untitled (1985) series, Hammons transforms cultural objects into magical, fetishistic assemblages. Containing recognizable religious and mythical symbols, along with ritualistic ceremonial objects, the ambiguous relationship between chosen materials ultimately confuscate the “message in the bottle.”