David Hammons, A Fan, at PS1

David Hammons, A Fan, installed in “Rousing the Rubble” at PS1, 1990-91, image: MoMA

The way I have the installation views of David Hammons 1990 PS1 retrospective, Rousing the Rubble, open in my tabs for months, like a talisman or something, and still have to make the effort to see the unfamiliar right in front of me.

Like this work, A Fan, from 1989, in which a white female mannequin head is perched on a table leaf, turned toward a TV and VCR playing an archival interview with Malcolm X. Next to the TV is a palm fan, and an arrangement of funeral flowers on a white wire stand.

A Fan caught the attention of poet Yuko Otomo, who attended Hammons’ opening, and recorded the intense experience of the walkthrough in her journal. Otomo is an incredibly perceptive viewer. The Areidolia link above includes her writing about Hammons’ 2016 show at Mnuchin, too. Here’s an interview with her.

David Hammons’ A Fan, 1989, installed at “Strange Attractors: Signs of Chaos, 9.14.1989-11.26.1989, at the New Museum, NY

Hammons showed A Fan the year before, too, in “Strange Attractors: Signs of Chaos,” an exhibit of chaos science-related work curated by Laura Trippi at the New Museum. It was seen there by critic Maurice Berger, who wrote about it, and the resurgence of Malcolm X’s voice into contemporary white-dominated cultural discourse, in his 1990 ARTNews essay, “Are Art Museums Racist?”. ARTNews republished the essay in March 2020, to mark Berger’s death from COVID. It is depressingly fresh:

Without the Hammons piece the sensibility of “Strange Attractors” would have been very different, more typical of the splashy group shows of contemporary art that simply ignore the issue of race. That one image threw the entire show into question and pointed up the racial bias of its institutional context. Increasingly, across the country, similar catalysts are inserting painful questions into the heretofore complacent space of exhibition as curators with good intentions attempt to “include” the cultural production of people of color.

Berger quotes some of the Malcolm X video Hammons used: “There is nothing that the white man will do to bring about true, sincere citizenship or civil rights recognition for black people in this country. They will always talk but they won’t practice it.” Which, though it sounds like it could have been said yesterday, is an interview from UC Berkeley from October 11, 1963.

The TV, VCR, flowers, and fan are all different between the two installations. At the New Museum, the name Malcolm is spelled out in gold glitter on the red bow on the flowers. Of Hammons’ work at PS1, Otomo wrote, “[T]he feeling of being challenged was merely a result of the implosion of the ingrained hypocrisy inside us. Hammons’ work never shows off theory or words. They threaten us, the viewers, just by being there.” She noted that her companion Steve, explaining the unfamiliar cultural references to her, said he “had tried to listen to Malcolm X’s arguments in the 60s.”

Though it would be good to see it now, the present whereabouts/status of A Fan is unknown.

David Hammons: Rousing the Rubble, 1969-1990 [ps1.org]
Perpetual Ripplets: On David Hammons, Yuko Otomo, June 2016 [areidolia]
Strange Attraction: Signs of Chaos [newmuseum.org]
Maurice Berger’s Are Art Museums Racist? [artnews]
1963 Interview with Malcolm X [c-span.org]

Previously, related:
Also David Hammons in 1989: How Ya Like How Ya Like Me Now?
Also David Hammons in 1990: Pissed Off: Can You Hold It?
David Hammons in 1991: Public Enemy Nos. 2 — ?
David Hammons in 1995: School of Rock Fan