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David Hammons: Body Prints, 1968–1979

The first museum exhibition dedicated to David Hammons’s early works on paper, David Hammons: Body Prints, 1968–1979, will be the most comprehensive presentation to date of the monoprints and collages in which the artist first used the body as both a drawing tool and printing plate to devise a new and unconventional form of image making. More than half a century later, these early works on paper remain a testament to Hammons’s innate understanding of the relationship between language and image; his celebration of the sacredness of objects touched or made by the Black body; his biting critique of racial oppression; and his deep commitment to social justice.

Hammons created the body prints by greasing his body—or that of another person—with margarine or baby oil, pressing or rolling it against paper and sprinkling the resulting images with charcoal and powdered pigment. The resulting impressions are intimately direct indexes of faces, skin, and hair that exist somewhere between spectral portraits and physical traces. Drawn, silkscreened, and collaged American flags, found objects, and colored papers complicate some of these prints as the artist moved between an investigation of symbols of racial and social exclusion and formal visual exploration. As a group, these works elucidate the development of the body prints series, as well as establish the artistic strategies that continue to mark the works in Hammons’s long and varied career.

Born in 1943 in Springfield, Illinois, Hammons moved to Los Angeles at the age of twenty and began making his body prints several years later. He studied at Otis Art Institute with the masterdraftsman Charles White and became part of a younger generation of Black avant-garde artists who were loosely associated with the Black Arts Movement. He befriended and exhibited with artists including Betye Saar, Senga Nengudi, and Noah Purifoy, and his first body prints were shown in the context of their performative and sculptural work. With his move to New York in 1979, Hammons’s work became more three dimensional, but the fundamental tenets expressed in his body prints remain in his work to this day.

Organized by Laura Hoptman, Executive Director, with Isabella Kapur, Curatorial Assistant.


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The Drawing Center is free and open to the public! All visitors must make a timed-entry reservation ahead of their visit.