For a Politics of Obscurity: David Hammons and Black Experimentalism, 1974-1989


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History and Archaeology

Named Award

Ellen Holtzman Fellow named award


This dissertation analyzes David Hammons's street performances, installations, and found object sculptures in New York between 1974 and 1989 as experimental gestures revealing conditions of aesthetic and social legibility for ordinary black Americans. Though Hammons has actively exhibited since 1967, the project argues that he strategically wields obscurity by withdrawing from art world conventions and blurring traditional mediums, if not disciplines. He does so precisely to call attention to a nuanced, overlapping range of constituencies, whose presence depends on the institutional and archival frameworks through which one looks. The project moves away from conventional interpretations of the artist as “trickster,” arguing instead that Hammons challenges notions of outsider status and the role of visibility in the age of multiculturalism. His ambivalence toward full institutional participation acts as an intentional obscuring of structures that dictate how black art is codified, raising questions about how art is produced and for whom.