Art in America

David Hammons at Mnuchin Gallery
April 14, 2016

By Brian Droitcour

 

An exhibition of David Hammons’s work spanning five decades most generously features his modified readymades. Perhaps it’s because Mnuchin Gallery makes such an effective foil for them. More than a white cube ever could, the Upper East Side townhouse, with its parquet floors and elaborate molding, exaggerates the poverty of the found objects—a hoodie, a street performer’s bongo set, a beat-up basketball hoop—while enhancing the transformative magic that Hammons casts on them with grim humor. In the Hood (1993), a ragged-edged severed hood of a sweatshirt shaped with wire and hung on wall as a specimen, looks like both an executioner’s hood and a ghostly death shroud. The bongos of Standing Room Only (1996) are tucked forlornly in a corner, with a stuffed cat corpse curled up on top, an ambiguous signal of homey coziness and curbside roadkill. The hoop of Basketball Chandelier (1997) is strung with crystals, while the backboard is dotted with electric candles and decorated with crimped metal ornaments that look sharp and rough enough to cut a dunker’s hand, or even the ball. These sculptures and others from the last twenty years are quite different from Hammons’s body prints (the earliest works in the show), which he made by smearing his body in oils and pressing it against canvas. Yet those prints seem to map the work that the later sculptures do on viewers: they play on a surface to make an impression that somehow gets under the skin.