New York

David Hammons

Zwirner & Wirth

Everyone I asked about the Miles Davis painting that was included in this year’s Whitney Biennial, a lively Basquiatesque oil on canvas from 1991 titled RU Legal, immediately assured me that it was actually “by” or an “intervention of” David Hammons, as if this “solved” how or why this painting came to be displayed. While I have no interest in refuting the contention that the painting appeared at Hammons’s behest, I have a lot of interest in what such an appearance and its attendant obfuscation might mean. Hammons’s name is not listed in any museum materials or in the Biennial catalogue. Described variously as “elusive,” “enigmatic,” and a “trickster,” certainly a scholar of irony’s mise en abyme (call it that old black magic), Hammons moves by feints and dodges. So while his “participation” in the Biennial could be seen as, I guess, a curatorial coup, it could just as easily reveal that

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