Too Obvious

David Hammons1996

The Studio Museum in Harlem

The Studio Museum in Harlem

Because David Hammons is an artist so thoroughly engaged with duality, double consciousness and binary meaning, it’s difficult to say with certainty which spelling of the title of this important work is correct—“too” or “two.” Both have been used by reputable sources. As a master of visual and verbal puns, Hammons’s Too Obvious appears to be just that. Whether you read the image of a broken pink piggy bank overflowing with cowries, like guts spilling from a carcass, as a sign of abundance or an interpretation of a malfunctioning, broken corporate bank, the duality of the associated meanings might come across as absurd or, in fact, “too obvious.” The latter reading, of course, carries less weight (or does it?) when one considers that the work was made in 1996, in the middle of the prosperous Clinton years. Or is the work an equally absurd reference to Africa in the New World, represented by the cowrie shells—a traditional form of currency in Africa—and the porcelain bank, a pedagogical device to teach children the benefits of thrift, now better known as a marketing image for commercial banks? Or, if the title is spelled with a “two,” it may refer to the dualism that plays such an important role in Hammons’s entire oeuvre.

The duality at the core of this piece may be its most important element. Like selling snowballs in the middle of winter, making art is often absurd and important at the same time. It looks like anybody can do it, and in the work of Hammons, as seen here, anyone can do it. All of these scenarios might be too obvious, even banal. For me, the work rests assuredly in a precarious place, on the line between good and bad in terms of aesthetic merit—the place where so much good art begins or ends. Being able to put words to that kind of artistic achievement is always a test. Is it too obvious? --Franklin Sirmans

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  • Title: Too Obvious
  • Creator: David Hammons
  • Date Created: 1996
  • Physical Dimensions: 7 × 12 × 14 in.
  • Provenance: The Studio Museum in Harlem; Gift of Edward Clark, New York 02.7.1
  • Rights: Photo: Marc Bernier
  • Medium: Cowrie shells and porcelain ceramic


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