From David Hammons, a Tribute to Pier 52 and Lastingness

In 2014, the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Adam D. Weinberg, invited the artist David Hammons to tour the museum’s still empty new building. Weinberg remembers them standing with each other at the panoramic fifth-flooring window overlooking the Hudson and conversing about the background of the waterfront going through the museum, about what was there and what was absent.

Gone, due to the fact its demolition in 1979, was Pier 52, as soon as a warehouse for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Organization, and famous in the artwork globe as the location for a monumental do the job of guerrilla-model public sculpture referred to as “Day’s End” by the American conceptualist Gordon Matta-Clark.

The Matta-Clark piece was a work of excision, not development. In 1975, he commandeered the pier’s immense, by-then 50 percent-ruined, shed — it measured 50 ft significant and 373 feet prolonged — and with a smaller crew of personnel he slice openings in its walls and floors, the largest staying a quarter-moon-shaped incision in the sunset-struggling with west wall. His reason was to permit in light that would adjust in the course of days and seasons. He envisioned the basilica-scaled interior as “a peaceful enclosure, a joyous situation.”

A couple of days right after Hammons’s Whitney pay a visit to, Weinberg been given in the mail a smaller pencil drawing from him, a light-weight-touch sketch of the vanished Pier 52, reimagined as a variety of pavilion in open drinking water. There was no explanatory be aware. Preoccupied with designs for the new Whitney’s approaching debut, Weinberg only later contacted Hammons about the drawing. It turned out that the famously elusive artist, with his signature behavior of strategic indirection, had submitted it as a proposal for a web page-specific sculpture.

Now, seven years afterwards, that sculpture is in spot. Sponsored jointly by the Whitney and the Hudson River Park Have faith in, it stands, forever put in on the waterfront opposite the museum on metropolis-and-condition owned land, around what will eventually be a massive public playing discipline. Both equally the place and proportions of the piece match those people of Pier 52 as it as soon as existed. (When pilings have been sunk to support the new sculpture, remnants of the aged wood pier have been found.)

The sculpture doesn’t comply with Hammons’s system fully — it is not surrounded on all sides by drinking water — but it cannily translates his authentic sketch in a few dimensional phrases. Employing lengths of slender, ductile stainless-steel piping, Person Nordenson, the structural engineer for the job, has managed to suggest the unemphatic fat of Hammons’s pencil traces, and the mirage-like high-quality of his wall-fewer, floorless, roofless openwork style. The matte-textured, light-absorbent high-quality of the metal subtly alters the work’s visibility during the working day. There will be no synthetic illumination at evening.

By naming his piece “Day’s Finish,” Hammons has produced it a homage by 1 artist to a further, but a difficult one. He and Matta-Clark had been virtually correct contemporaries, born a month apart in 1943 both ended up energetic in New York City in the 1970s, Hammons arriving from Los Angeles in 1974. But they traveled in different circles and did not meet up with. Matta-Clark’s primary foundation was the art scene in SoHo Hammons’s was one particular of a group of Black artists related with the gallery Just Over Midtown, then on West 57th Avenue. Hammons never ever observed Matta-Clark’s Pier 52 do the job, and, as it transpired, the overlapping existence of the two gentlemen was quick: Matta-Clark died of most cancers in 1978 at age 35.

But as artists they had much in common. Equally made do the job from discovered and ephemeral materials: in the situation of Matta-Clark, derelict architecture in the circumstance of Hammons, street trash, usually with Black cultural associations — chicken bones, liquor bottles, barbershop hair. And both worked, for the most element, outside the precincts of mainstream artwork institutions. Certainly, it is not devoid of symbolic importance that inspite of its proximity to the Whitney, Hammons’s “Day’s End” is not the property of the museum, but of a conservation rely on. It is a community monument, not a private a person.

A monument to whom, or to what? To a fellow artist, yes, but also, by intention or not, to certain social and private histories. For me, the most resonant of them dates from prior to Matta-Clark’s arrival at the web site, to the early 1970s, when Pier 52, along with a number of other piers lining the Hudson in Chelsea and the West Village, served as gay meeting and cruising places.

Matta-Clark was effectively aware of the gay existence, spoke of it dismissively, and did his ideal to hold it off the pier soon after finishing “Day’s Stop,” which he hoped to endorse as “a sculptural festival of gentle and water” open to the public. (The strategy experienced to be deserted when the city’s Economic Progress Administration filed suit towards him for damaging house.) But by then the web page, and the gay local community that occupied it, had a chronicler and winner in another artist, the Black photographer Alvin Baltrop (1948-2004).

Commencing in the early 1970s, Baltrop, who usually camped out in a van in close proximity to the pier, documented the social and sexual action there. In his pictures from the late 1970s, “Day’s End” can be witnessed as a backdrop for erotic pursuits. Considered in this context, Matta-Clark’s job can consider on a adverse political valence. With its intrusion of unasked for, and perhaps unwanted, light, it can be browse as an act of artwork-world colonization. (This advanced dynamic surrounding the do the job was handily summed up by Adrienne Edwards, now the Whitney’s director of curatorial affairs, in her catalog for the 2019 Baltrop retrospective at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.)

And in his “Day’s Conclude,” Hammons evokes an artwork record instant of his individual, just one that took place a little bit farther downtown. If you stand at his “Day’s End” and seem south on the Hudson you can see the business and residential towers of Battery Park Town in Lessen Manhattan. In Matta-Clark’s day, these properties didn’t exist. All that was there was a major, scrubby stretch of Earth Trade Centre landfill, which, throughout summers from 1979 to 1985, beneath the auspices of the nonprofit arts business Imaginative Time Inc., served as a phase for programs of community situations termed “Art on the Seashore.”

There in the summer of 1985, Hammons, collaborating with the artist Angela Valerio and the architect Jerry Barr, designed “Delta Spirit,” a funky cabin nailed alongside one another from scrap wooden, mosaicked with crushed cans and bottle caps, and open for performances. Solar Ra and his Solar Arkestra were among the talents that beamed in and performed. And it is truly worth noting that Nordenson, who gave Hammons’s “Day’s End” substance sort, contributed, as a youthful artist, to a further artwork piece on the “beach” that 12 months.

“Art on the Beach” was, at least symbolically, a voice elevated in opposition to a residential gentrification in Lower Manhattan that was forcing artists, at the time a smaller but ardent community, out of the neighborhood. It is also attainable to interpret Matta-Clark’s “Day’s End” as a comparable protest in opposition to rapacious, record-crushing “urban renewal” in an location farther north in Manhattan and to obtain in Hammons’s new sculpture a reaction to the current metastasis of true estate enhancement from Hudson Yards down to the meatpacking district, wherever the Whitney stands.

I suspect, however, that this artist would reject owning his do the job so narrowly read through. He has a observe document of withholding interpretive comment on his art — “I really feel like a magician,” he reported recently, “and magicians do not give up their secrets” — and of thwarting important consensus all around it. For a long time when Black artists were all but excluded from the white-managed mainstream, he persisted in mining components and visuals from African-American society, evident in the excellent exhibition “David Hammons: Human body Prints, 1968-1979” at the moment at the Drawing Centre.

But in latest a long time, with perform by Black artists gaining traction in the market, he has moved in various, much less certainly identification-grounded directions. “It is now a lot less convincing than at any time to talk of Black artists as if they share an business,” wrote the artwork historian Darby English in his 2007 guide, “How to See a Work of Artwork in Total Darkness.” “Day’s Conclude,” the Hammons model, presses that level house.

But what is most distinct about the piece, in the context of this artist’s job, is its declared, established-in-area permanence, a characteristic in which, to my awareness, the artist has rarely earlier expressed interest. (Just one of his very best-recognized works, from the early 1980s, identified him offering snowballs on the street.)

“Most artists want at least 1 piece to be immortalized,” he claimed in a 1986 interview with the artwork historian Kellie Jones, “So a single piece would do it. Simply because we’re creating just one piece in any case, I guess, fragments of it.”

Hammons is 77. Is “Day’s End” the just one, immortalizing piece he usually means? I don’t consider so. But, as spare and durable as a pallet rack and empty of everything but history, mild and air, it is roomy enough to accommodate all the outstanding fragments of an incomparable job.


Day’s Conclude, on permanent perspective in Hudson River Park, opposite the Whitney Museum of American Art 212-570-3600 whitney.org.

David Hammons: System Prints, 1968-1979, by way of May 23 at the Drawing Center (212) 219-2166 drawingcenter.org.