Spontaneously I found myself yesterday at David Hammons' show at L&M Arts on 78th and Madison with some friends, and I was really taken by the excellence and clarity of formal composure in the work. The first piece one sees is a giant canvas thoroughly draped with drop cloth, as if the gallery hadn't unpacked the show yet. There's plastic hanging from the door frame. There's a smaller painting, maybe 4x5ft, with a yucky brown towel seized to the surface covering what appears to be an urgent and loosely painted abstract. But as I discovered throughout the downstairs the painting isn't the heart of the matter Hammons is aspiring to realize in these works.
One can see only little bits of the painting's edges and reveals in holes that have been cut out roughly in the tarpaulins. They appear like marks bitten out or burned, torn... The second room pushed me further into inquiry. Why are they covered? One can see enough of the actual paintings to realize that they're particularly attended to, defined enough, to say "I am a painting" but that's it. So what's that about? It appeared to us that the cover or veil is the subject. And occurred to me that these efforts are attempting to draw our attention to our own obstructions to being fresh when we look at a work of art. We all have this experience of expectation when we look at a work of art. We ascribe to ourselves the imposition of our own ignorance or intellectual knowing that, I believe Hammons is suggesting in the work, prevents us from actually seeing the work at all or in it's true entirety. Because we are not fresh. Our senses are cut off by our concepts of things. The downstairs works suggest to this viewer that is is I who is wearing a tarpaulin over my head, attempting to bite through to see the world fully.
There's one piece that really cinched the deal downstairs where the draped material on the surface doesn't totally cover the seemingly randomly attended to painting, and the fabric appears like some lushly green Issey Miyake shawl. Decorative, not tarpaulined, draping. David Hammons has made mirrors, I think. We lovingly drape ourselves with our concepts of ourselves and our worlds, preventing our eyes and our hearts from seeing and feeling and being seen and felt again and again.
My amazement about this show in reflection is how extraordinarily simple Hammons' means are to convey such powerful context. They are so raw and just right.
Upstairs, Hammons decides to change the project incorporating the tarpaulins and paintings to make sculpture. He says there's nothing to prevent you from seeing these materials as whole. The first piece upstairs is giant, a painting almost entirely covered with black-green plastic, leaning on a cobblestone, from a west village street or somewhere, on just one side, and the plastic falls to the floor. There's an almost figurative lean to the piece, to my eyes, like a lurching giant, the color of the plastic sucking all the light into itself....
There are two other pieces I'd like to reference. To the left in the 2nd gallery upstairs is a piece that shimmers. It's a woven tarp, purple-green, almost silvery, and it has been sewn a bit with what appears like a pocket even. A vertical tear reveals an equally shimmery painting, reminiscent of silvery water, or lightening in the sky. The tarp and painting seem in concert with each other, made of the same essential stuff, and I couldn't help but feel comforted by it. But in retrospect I really wonder what David Hammons intends to elicit with this piece. It is, in comparison to the other draped paintings, the loveliest. We all felt it, I think. But the painting is largely still covered. I don't know.
My personal favorite, the one I'm taking home if I could, is a piece made by two cloudy clear tarps, holes chewed away, hanging on a clean white wall from grommeted(sp?) holes. The torn edges of the holes captured in light appear silvery, almost painted, and I felt like Hammons wanted to show us something simply beautiful....No artifice, no concept, no intention but the pursuit of loveliness...And he really gets it. The transparencies of overlaid plastic feel like flesh or layers of winter lake ice, wax...naturally quite beautiful.