The Surprising Backstory Behind Anthea Hamilton’s Viral-Ready Derriere Installation

It was originally intended to be a doorway for a Manhattan skyscraper.

Installation view "Anthea Hamilton: Lichen! Libidio! Chastity!" at the SculptureCenter. Photo by Kyle Knodell. Image: Courtesy of Anthea Hamilton.

The SculptureCenter in Long Island City, Queens, recently opened the first US solo presentation of British sculptor Anthea Hamilton, provocatively titled “Lichen! Libido! Chastity!” The centerpiece—a giant, hyperreal installation depicting a man’s hands clutching his naked buttocks—seems to be taking its cue from other massive, social-media friendly installations of late.

In recent months, there was Nicholas Holiber’s giant Head of Goliath in Tribeca, and Hannah Liden’s Everything, a set of gargantuan stacked bagels that are currently situated in Hudson River Park. And who could forget Kara Walker’s wildly popular A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby,  an impressively large installation of a sugar-coated, sphinx-like woman at the now razed Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn. It was the talk of the art world last summer, although it spawned an assortment of offensive Instagram images.

But in the case of this particular butt, Hamilton herself, as well as the center’s executives and show organizers, seem to be fully prepared for an onslaught of cheeky selfies and portraits (We already found several online with comments and hashtag labels like #assgrab, #butthead, #babygotback, #welikebutts, and #buttheads, to name merely a few). The organizers even seem to have jump-started some of the fun themselves, judging by snaps on their related social media accounts.

Furthermore, the work comes with a decidedly intriguing, pre-digital-era backstory that suggests lightheartedness has always been a central part of this particular artwork. Hamilton’s inspiration, which is officially titled Project for door, was inspired by a 1972 model made by Italian designer Gaetano Pesce. It was originally intended to be a doorway for a Manhattan skyscraper but—perhaps not surprisingly—was never realized.

SculptureCenter curator Ruba Katrib told artnet News via email that Pesce had made the “doorway” as a model for an entrance to a Park Avenue building: “It was a hypothetical idea at the time and an act of architectural commentary. I think it says a lot that he imagined that the people entering this building in an elite district of Manhattan would be traversing between a spread ass. Pesce believes in figurative architecture, and he radically reconsiders the boxes we have become accustomed to in his works.”

Notwithstanding his ill-fated architectural aspirations, Pesce presumably approves of this new iteration. He was spotted in the SculptureCenter Instagram pic, standing along with the group, beaming out from directly under the newly-installed butt.

“Pesce’s original model was a provocative statement that remained a small-scale model,” wrote Katrib. “In Anthea’s work, the ass breaks out of the wall of the exhibition space in a forceful act of opening.”

Another layer of the story is that the presentation of Project for door is, in part, the brainchild of an initiative launched by London-based collector, patron, and philanthropist Valeria Napoleone, who supports projects and initiatives that aim to increase the representation of female artists in major public museums.

The Pesce-inspired sculpture is the first initiative under the collaborative project titled Valeria Napoleone XX Sculpture Center, which supports production of a major artwork in a selected exhibition every 12 to 18 months at the institution.

Anthea Hamilton Natural Livin' Boot (2015). Photo by Kyle Knodell. Image: Courtesy of the artist.

Anthea Hamilton Natural Livin’ Boot (2015).
Photo by Kyle Knodell. Image: Courtesy of the artist.

“The whole thing came about quite organically,” Napoleone told artnet News in an email regarding Pesce’s involvement with the project. “[It was] one of these incredible coincidences in life, since Gaetano is a dear friend of mine for more than 15 years, and I had dinner with him the night before. I thought it was a sign.”

Anthea Hamilton Brick Suit (2013). Photo by Kle Knodell. Image: Courtesy of the artist.

Anthea Hamilton Brick Suit (2013).
Photo by Kyle Knodell. Image: Courtesy of the artist.


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