Saturday, July 4, 2020

David Hammons | African-American Flag

David Hammons
African-American Flag
Self-published, 1990
dyed cotton
149.9 × 240 cm.
Edition of 5

The racial slur 'coon' dates back to at least 1837 and is said to derive from the word 'barracoon', from the Portuguese 'barraca', meaning "slave depot, pen or rough enclosure for black slaves in transit". The term gained popularity through its use in a series of ragtime songs dubbed 'coon songs' in the late 1800's. These abhorrent 'coon songs' portrayed blacks as unmarried, promiscuous, libidinous and prone to violence. The genre became so popular in the US that songwriters would add the word to preexisting songs, to cash in on the craze.

James Dormon, a former professor of history and American studies at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, has suggested that "coon songs" can be seen as a "sociopsychological mechanism for justifying segregation and subordination." The songs portrayed African Americans as posing a threat to the social order and suggested that they had to be controlled.

One of three songs cited as "firmly establishing the term coon in the American vocabulary" is Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon, (above) by Will A. Heelan, and J. Fred Helf. The 1900 hit inspired the creation of the Pan-African flag twenty years later, proposed by the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. Marcus Garvey, who founded the organization, was quoted as saying:

"Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, "Every race has a flag but the coon." How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can't say it now...."

Journalist Charles Mowbray White, who interviewed Garvey at the time, has asserted that "Garvey said red because of sympathy for the 'Reds of the world', and the Green their sympathy for the Irish in their fight for freedom, and the Black- [for] the Negro."

A UNIA document from 1921, refers to the colour choice as "Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland." More recently, the UNIA has referred to the colours as representing "red: the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation; black: black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag; and green: the abundant natural wealth of Africa."

In 1990 artist David Hammons produced African-American Flag, which hybridized the colours of the Pan-African flag with the stars and stripes of "old glory". The work was originally conceived for the 1990 group exhibition “Black USA” at the Museum Overholland in Amsterdam and reportedly inspired by the Watts Riots that took place in Los Angeles in the summer of 1965.

Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn has said African-American Flag is “a flag for a new nation, a flag for a new insight, it is a new flag for a new form and a new truth.”

The work is now highly sought after by collectors and museums. One of the edition is found in the Pizzuti Collection in Columbus, Ohio, and another was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art and the Studio Museum in Harlem, twenty three years ago, a gift from the Hudgins Family in memory of Jack Tilton. The Broad in Los Angeles acquired one in June 2019, the first work by the artist to enter the museum’s permanent collection.

In 2017, two editions of the work were offered at auction, for the first time. One sold for $2.05 million via Phillips’ in May, while another sold for more than $2.1 million from Sotheby’s, in November. Kenny Schachter at Art Net news speculated that Hammons himself may have been the consigner in the first sale.

Small reproductions of the flag often appear at Black Lives Matter protests, as does the image reproduced on T-shirts.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Rubber Stamp Project: Andrea Mortson

Andrea Mortson, 2001, for

[Various Artists]
The Rubber Stamp Project
Sackville, Canada: Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre, 2003
[68 pp.], 24 x 10 cm., soft cover
Edition size unknown

(see earlier posts)

Richard Tuttle: A Fair Sampling Collected Writings 1966–2019

Richard Tuttle
Richard Tuttle: A Fair Sampling Collected Writings 1966–2019 
Cologne, Germany: Walther König, 2020
504 pp., 17.8 x 17.8 cm., hardcover
Edition size unknown

This thick volume collects over fifty years of writing by the artist, much of it specific to commissions or publications, and some of it previously unreleased. Edited by Dieter Schwarz, the book is divided into ten sections: On Art, On Works and Exhibitions, On Drawing, On Paper, Books and Prints, On Textiles, On Artists and Friends, On Various Subjects, Talks, Travel Notes and Poems. The section on artists and friends features writings about Agnes Martin and Richard Serra, among others.

"The union of artist and poet in a single individual does not mean that words and works illustrate and elucidate one another; rather, the individual's artistic side paints and draws while the poetic side writes, with each form of expression functioning independently, at once self-contained and mutually complementary, forming an entity of two separate and irreducible halves...

Moving from the spoken to the written word requires an occasion: for Tuttle, these have been exhibitions of his and his friends' work, as well as of genres close to his heart, chiefly drawings and prints. Almost all of the texts collected here were written in response to specific requests.
Tuttle began his work without formal training as an artist, and the fact that he drew not on a learned body of skills and artistic techniques but on his experiences of artworks encountered since his youth is characteristic of his artistic practice. Thus, Tuttle views making art as a constant and fundamental querying of art's status. Art that exists solely in the act of being viewed rather than within a fixed frame is necessarily fragile and resists objective study, emerging anew as it does in every moment.

All of Tuttle's works are effectively answers to the open questions arising out of the very existence of art, even as they reinforce the idealistic belief in the reality of this existence to which he is subject, as are all other viewers.

Tuttle views making art as a constant and fundamental querying of art's status. Art that exists solely in the act of being viewed rather than within a fixed frame is necessarily fragile and resists objective study, emerging anew as it does in every moment.

Tuttle's relationship to writing is similarly autodidactic in nature and shot through with a sense of intimate urgency. He has a college degree and is well-read, but he found no discursive, reasoned way of stating his larger individual position with regard to his own works or broader artistic questions.

Rather, he felt compelled to discover an appropriate form of expression in writing. How was he to formulate the ineffable, that which could only be apprehended visually? One has the sense of watching Tuttle navigate the process of writing when reading his early texts. In them he ruminates on his own practice, describing and reflecting on it. In words, he gropes from one term to the next, repudiating conventions, breaking apart fixed meanings, and working doggedly to capture new, thitherto unexpressed ideas sentence by sentence. His use of quotation marks and italics makes evident his struggle with words and their meanings. Each sentence begins with a statement that Tuttle subsequently subjects to questions and objections as he continues to write. What results is a sinuous line rather than an argument in words, an arabesque of a kind we recognize from Tuttle's own drawings."
- Dieter Schwarz