After Initially Declining to Participate, David Hammons Unexpectedly Added Never-Before-Seen Works to His Drawing Center Show

The artist added six works from his personal collection—including one made this year.

Bruce W. Talamon, David Hammons making a body print, Slauson Avenue studio, Los Angeles (1974). Courtesy of the artist.

David Hammons has made a surprise intervention in a show of the artist’s influential “Body Prints” series at the Drawing Center. 

More than two months into the show’s run, the artist has added six never-before-seen prints from his personal collection—including one made this year of a dark, spectral figure that appears to be wearing a mask. (The addition happens to make a misnomer of the show’s title, “Body Prints, 1968–1979.”)

David Hammons, <i>Untitled</i> (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

David Hammons, Untitled (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Drawing Center director Laura Hoptman had organized the show without Hammons’s participation, or what she called the artist’s “benign neglect” in the introductory essay to the exhibition catalogue. So it came as a surprise when she received a call from Hammons a few weeks ago with a plan to send more art.

But then again, it wasn’t that surprising. “This is what he does,” Hoptman tells Artnet News, explaining that while Hammons rarely participates in the process of putting together shows of his older work, he will often put his stamp on them after the fact. (At every stop in her career, including stints at MoMA, the Carnegie Museum, and the New Museum, Hoptman has proposed solo shows to the artist, and each time he has declined.)

Installation view of "David Hammons: Body Prints, 1968–1979," at The Drawing Center, 2021. Courtesy of The Drawing Center.

Installation view of “David Hammons: Body Prints, 1968–1979,” at the Drawing Center, 2021. Courtesy of the Drawing Center.

Hoptman describes the gesture as an “intervention,” but that’s not Hammons’s own term. “I think we lack the language for what this is,” Hoptman says. And when asked if she had any insight into the intentions of the famously elusive artist—whether he intended the move as a playful rejoinder to curatorial decisions, or a correction, perhaps—she simply laughed and said “No!”

Considered to be among the most important works of his career, Hammons began his series of “Body Prints” in the late ‘60s by greasing himself up with margarine or baby oil, pressing himself against a piece of paper or other material, and then spreading charcoal or powdered pigment on the imprint. What emerged was a powerful index of the Black body—sometimes sensual, sometimes trapped.

David Hammons, <i>Untitled</i> (1976). Courtesy of the artist.

David Hammons, Untitled (1976). Courtesy of the artist.

Whereas other artists had applied paint to their bodies in the past, Hammons’s more visceral technique was all his own. “It was a formidable innovation,” New York Times critic Will Heinrich wrote recently. “Instead of the vague, if graphic, smudges a painted body would produce, these soft-edged, X-ray-like images caught every last detail. They look less like ordinary artworks than like the Shroud of Turin.”

Until this month, Hoptman and her team believed that Hammons hadn’t made any “Body Prints” since the end of the ’70s. That he had continued the work, and was willing to show it, proved to be more of a revelation than the “intervention” itself. 

“I think it’s an exquisite and moving reminder of the fact that his genius is still alive,” says Hoptman, who has on many occasions referred to Hammons as “the greatest living artist in the United States.”

“I don’t see it as a revision of his history, but rather an assertion of the artist’s voice in the making of that history,” she said. “I think that’s something that Hammons has always stood for and that, as a curator, I deeply respect.” 

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