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David Hammons

American, born 1943

Basketball Drawing, 2001

Harlem earth on paper and found suitcase
116 x 46 x 12 inches (294.6 x 116.8 x 30.5 cm)
George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 2001

A sheet of paper ten-feet high covered with dirt from Harlem by bouncing a basketball on it, framed and matted, and hanging on a gallery wall with an old suitcase behind it. This is the stuff that the artist David Hammons used to make his Basketball Drawing, completed in 2001. Rooted in the black urban experience, Hammons creates works out of the debris of African American life using poignant sarcasm and clever puns to force viewers to confront cultural stereotypes and racial issues. He has made art since the early 1970s with grease, hair, barbecued ribs, cheap wine bottles, and dirt, among other things, often on city streets and in vacant lots rather than in art galleries.

Hammons began making art on the theme of basketball in the early 1980s. For him, the African American experience of basketball is both one of exploitation of young black men by the white establishment and an integral part of the culture of the streets. In this piece, using a basketball as his "drawing tool," he evokes the constant bouncing of the ball on a sheet of paper that is the height of a regulation hoop. As in much of Hammons’ work, there are many possible ways to think about this work. It can be seen as homage to the improvisational "art" of African American basketball playing and as a comment on the remote and museum-bound conventions of abstract art. An elegant, cloud-like minimalist field of gray, created in an unequivocally anti-art material and process, this “drawing” brings the dirt and exuberance of Harlem into the quiet confines of the art world. The inclusion of the suitcase can be thought of as a reference to the distance between the art museum and the ghetto, to the "baggage" associated with the art world, or to the wanderings of the artist himself.


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