Frieze, March 2009
A FRACTION OF THE WHOLE
By Steven Stern
. . . . [excerpt below] . . . .
Hammons' P.S.1 show of 1991 -- simultaneously debut and mid-career retrospective -- would be the last such survey he willingly participated in. By refusing the standard institutional hagiographies, he has left his work to exist in a sort of shadow economy, a borderland between art history and rumour. It's therefore perversely fitting that in 2007 [sic] the Harlem gallery Triple Candie attempted to remedy this by organizing an ironically 'unoficial' career retrospective. Made up of blurry photocopies taken from the Internet and out-of-print catalogues, it was an ad hoc, forensic survey, as thorough as limited resources could allow. While functioning as an impressive work of guerrilla scholarship, the show simultaneously celebrated Hammons' refusal to be catalogued and contained. Rumours circulated, of course, that the artist himself was secretly responsible for the show. He, of course, refused to comment; Triple Candie's owners denied Hammons' participation. They have noted, though, that on the day of opening they found a wooden clown figure, salvaged from a carnival, outside the gallery door. It's not hard to believe that this was a salute, a tribute to the shared spirit of gamesmanship, a willingness to play along. Staging an unauthorized retrospective may have countermanded the artist's wishes, but it demonstrated a consummate understanding of his strategies of dissent and refusal. Hammons' gambits are the demands of a trickster: he pleads not to be thrown into the briar patch of art history -- the place, of course, where he was born and bred.