David Hammons: Phat Free

May 16 - June 1, 2019


The Mistake Room is pleased to collaborate with Colección Isabel y Agustin Coppel (CIAC) to present David Hammons’ Phat Free— his only video to date— for a limited two-week run.  A recording of a 1995 public performance that was then edited and exhibited at the 1997 Whitney Biennial, this will be the first time that the work has been publicly screened in Los Angeles.

At the beginning of the video there is nothing to see, only noises in the darkness, heard in the moments before images.  When the visuals start, we see a figure, filmed in a blur of low-light slow motion, kicking a metal can through the nighttime streets of New York City. As he moves down the street, the kicking takes on a pattern; from noise to a kind of music. And then the video loops and we go back into the dark. But the noises have changed. No longer such a mystery, they now testify to the presence of a person and a place. No longer noise, they are now signals in the dark, reminding us of what just was, and presaging what will soon be again.

The first of several testimonial moments planned for Histories of a Vanishing Present, The Mistake Room’s 2019-2020 curatorial cycle, David Hammons: Phat Free is presented in concurrence to the artist’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in nearly 45 years, staged just up the road in the city’s Arts District. To travel the space between, up-or-down the historic and storied Alameda Corridor, is to see the neighborhood be transformed, from a space where people lived on and made their living off of the streets, to one where moneyed consumption and astronomical rents are the norm. Phat Free is a poetic rejoinder to this process, emphasizing a cyclical meander of meaning over progress and accumulation, and reminding us of a human creativity that does not need high production values or institutional validation.

David Hammons: Phat Free is organized by The Mistake Room and curated by César García-Alvarez, TMR Executive & Artistic Director.


David Hammons was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1943. He moved to Los Angeles in 1963 attending Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) from 1966 – 1968 and the Otis Art Institute from 1968 – 1972. In 1974 Hammons settled in New York City. Influenced by Arte Povera, Hammons's work speaks of cultural overtones; employing provocative materials such as elephant dung, chicken parts, strands of hair, and bottles of cheap wine. Centered in the black urban experience, Hammons often uses sarcasm as a means of confronting cultural stereotypes and racial issues. Hammons was the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in July 1991. Hammons's work is collected by major public and private institutions internationally, among them: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge; Glenstone, Potomac; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; SMAK, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent; Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris; Francois Pinault Foundation, Venice; and Tate Britain, London.


Histories of a Vanishing Present (2019-2020) explores how a generation of artists born at the cusp of the global turn inherit pasts that don’t directly belong to them. Through the lens of postmemory, this cycle tackles a new relationship with identity politics forged by a millennial generation of artists for whom ideas of nationalism, cultural heritage, and historical trauma are radically different than for their predecessors. Why do military dictatorships in Latin America, the legacies of the Cold War, the activist histories of the LGBTQ and Civil Rights movements, or independence movements in Africa shape conversations about the work of a global generation of emerging artists whose sole relationship to these moments is the place of their birth, the color of their skin, their sexual orientations, or the familial histories they contend with? At a time when ideas of identity are being revisited in charged and polarizing ways, how can we rethink subjecthood not as a predefined category but as a tense and ongoing process of becoming? This cycle considers identity as situational—as a negotiation between the stories of those who came before and the responsibilities of those who are expected to inherit them.

Major support for The Mistake Room's programs is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Generous support for this exhibition is provided by The Mistake Room's Board of Directors, Big Mistake Patron Group, International Council, and Contemporary Council.