Best Artist (2011)

David Hammons

Who's the best artist in NYC? Is residency a requirement? Born here? (That last criteria probably eliminates 99 percent of the candidates.) How about a 68-year-old from Springfield, Illinois, who has flummoxed and thrilled New York's cognoscenti for decades? In 1983, he sold snowballs outside Cooper Union, merging the Duchampian conundrum of what, exactly, constitutes an objet d'art with the cliché of a black guy selling his wares from a blanket on an East Village sidewalk. In 2003, visitors were given ineffectual blue flashlights to navigate downtown's gargantuan Ace Gallery, which he had darkened and completely emptied, transforming us all into invisible men groping in the void. No one (except, perhaps, Muhammad Ali) has ever rattled America's cages of race and class to such poetic effect as has David Hammons. In a rare interview, he once said: "I don't know what my work is. I have to wait to hear that from someone." Don't bother telling him, though—we doubt he'll stop to listen.


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