Titled, “Word on the Street: David Hammons’s Negotiation of Rumor, ca. 1981”, Schriber spoke of Hammons’ “strategy of obscurity” and the careful ambiguities around the two projects, Pissed Off, and Shoe Tree, in which, respectively, the artist pissed on and threw sneakers over a three-plate Serra prop piece installed on a Tribeca traffic island at the intersection of Sixth Avenue & Franklin Street.
I knew the narrative of the situation, as constructed around Dawoud Bey’s handful of photos, was highly susceptible to, what? interpretation? bias? subjectivity? In a way, I think that’s Hammons’ point: how do we interpret what we see, even when we [should] know what we’re seeing is incomplete, an artist’s presentation?
What I did not realize, is that Hammons sat on these works without announcing or showing them for nine years. The work was first shown publicly in the 1990 Exit Art exhibition, “Illegal America.”
Whether it’s the myopia of the blogger and tweeter compelled to feed the content beast, or the tyranny of the new, it’s hard to imagine maintaining this kind of years-long silence about a work today. But that could also be the perplexity of hindsight. Maybe Hammons didn’t show Pissed Off because no one wanted to see it. Or he didn’t have the right context for it.
Which made me wonder again. Hammons’ Pissed Off was included in Exit Art’s 1990 show “Illegal America.” [Was the Xeroxed “poster” above, in the Exit Art archive at NYU, what was included in the exhibit? Was anything else?] But the 1990 show was a restaging of a February 1982 show of the same name. “Illegal America” was the first show Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo staged as Exit Art, and they did it at Franklin Furnace, which was located half a block from the site of Serra’s–and Hammons’–works. You could see Serra’s work from Franklin Furnace’s front door.
At SAAM, Schriber discussed Hammons’ interactions with JAM, an alternative space for emerging African American artists which had moved a couple of blocks west of Franklin Furnace, but she did not mention this earlier incarnation of “Illegal America.” 26 of the 36 artists in the 1990 show had also been in the 1982. Hammons was not among them. Was he going to be? Was he not?
It does seem like quite a coincidence that Hammons created two works involving the racialized and bodily precarity associated with illegal actions within pissing distance of the projected site of a show about artists working in the medium of illegality itself.
Could it be? “Illegal America” opened in February 1982, and included The Real Estate Show, which had taken place in 1980. Pissed Off happened sometime in 1981, but T.W.U. was only installed until July 30th, 1981, so that gives some parameters. Would Hammons have visited Franklin Furnace before, during or after Pissed Off? Would they have known of his work? Were they interested? Or not? If Hammons was going to be in, he wasn’t. If he wanted to be in, he wasn’t. Did something go down?
Would the Exit Art folks or Franklin Furnace have known in 1982 about the subject of Hammons’ artist statement for the 1990 show, which Schriber presented, and which I had never heard of?
“Pissed Off” is about the fact that in New York City a man doesn’t have any public access to relieve himself in a decent manner. There is no way for a gentleman to relieve himself in a gentlemanly manner without having to buy a drink.
Keep the rage going.
What started Hammons’ rage? Sure, a city and a system that denied the needs of its citizens on the most basic, bodily level, and putting a gentleman at risk of police intervention for the most basic necessities, but was there anything else?
Can you imagine Hammons and Bey the morning of Pissed Off, one of them with a camera, and at least one of them dressed in a dashiki that, as Schriber put it, gave him “the look of a city forager.” What if they visited Franklin Furnace that morning? To drop off some slides? To talk about a show? Have a chat? Just to look around? What if they said they were there for a meeting? What if they asked to use the men’s room? Can you imagine what could have happened?
Hammons’ nine year wait seems short, and also way too long. And I don’t think he’s done.