Over the past six decades, David Hammons has explored the issues of Black representation and identity in art and the world at large. With a multifarious oeuvre spanning performance, drawing, printmaking, painting, and sculpture, Hammons interrogates racially charged stereotypes by manipulating cultural symbols. Hammons’ visceral Body Prints, one of the artist’s earliest and most renowned series, utilize the body as a tool for art making and simultaneously transform the body into an icon.
To create ‘Untitled (Body Print)’ (1970), Hammons coated a body with margarine and, using it as a printing plate, pressed the greased body against black paper. With this method, he produced an index of the body in space and time, capturing in incredible detail the texture of skin and hair. He then dusted the impression with pigment before securing this new positive reproduction with fixative. While Hammons’ use of the figure in this series can be perceived as sensual or as a celebration of the Black body, the physicality of the one-to-one scale also evokes the ephemeral, the absence, and the loss of the bodies represented.
Hammons began the Body Prints in 1968 while living in Los Angeles and continued the series through the mid-1970s after relocating to New York. The completion of this series marked a transitional moment for Hammons, a point at which he began to move away from the two-dimensional format of the Body Prints toward assemblage sculpture, installation, and performance.
David Hammons making body prints in his Slauson Avenue studio, 1974. Photo: Bruce W. Talamon © Bruce W. Talamon. Courtesy Roberts & Tilton
‘I feel that my art relates to my total environment—my being a Black, political, and social human being. Although I am involved with communicating with others, I believe that my art itself is really my statement. For me it has to be.’
An important early example, ‘Untitled (Body Print)’ is one of the most evocative works from this renowned series, examples of which reside in major collections including the Guggenheim Museum, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. While later Body Prints often include impressions of clothes, flags or other silkscreened and collaged embellishments, ‘Untitled (Body Print)’ is hauntingly pared down. A halo of hair frames the ghostly figure’s face, propped up by the fragmented body parts stacked below.
Apsara DiQuinzio has outlined the art-historical precedents of the body prints including Yves Klein’s blue ‘Anthropometries’, Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil’s experimental photograms, or Jasper Johns’ hand and face prints from the early 1960s. Yet, as she highlights, ‘Hammons’ work is distinctive in its incorporation of highly charged political subject matter’ as it considers the ways in which Black bodies are politically coded in the United States, and how they remain disenfranchised and discriminated against to this day.
Our new private viewing space is now open in the Village of Southampton, on the South Fork of Long Island, New York, presenting key works by artists in our program, including George Condo, Rashid Johnson, Lorna Simpson, and others. ‘Untitled (Body Print)’ by David Hammons can be viewed at the gallery by appointment from Tuesday to Sunday, between the hours of 11 am and 6 pm EST.