Billed as one of the highlights of Pacific Standard Time (A large-scale multi-museum/ gallery initiative taking place this year), “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980″ at the Hammer Museum prominently features Hammons’ “America the Beautiful” (1968) as its poster image. Surveying African American artists through a tumultuous time in the city’s young history, “Now Dig This!” grapples with the racial tensions and black power movements that pervaded LA in the 1960s onwards including the infamous Watts Riots of 1965. Hammons, alongside contemporaries Melvin Edwards, Maren Hassinger, John Outterbridge, and Noah Purifoy channeled the continually evolving LA aesthetic (assemblage, “finish fetish,” and California pop), to create their own nuanced interpretations that became not only incredible works but rather sociological studies in and of themselves.
Hammons began producing and casually disseminating the Body Prints in the 1960s and 70s when he was living in Los Angeles. The series dealt heavily with collage and assemblage practices that featured difficult material as seen in the work of fellow L.A. artists Ed Kienholz and Ed Bereal. Their works confront the notion of black identity most notably evidenced by the fact that the silhouettes are indeed black. Reviewer Holland Cotter mused “a few of these prints have turned up regularly in museum shows over the years. Most he sold or gave away soon after he produced them,” suggesting the prints remain a rarity.
“Now Dig This!” Los Angeles: Hammer Museum, 2011.
Images courtesy of the Collection of Eileen Norton, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Mills College Art Museum and the Hammer Museum