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A virtual presence has now become a vital transactional resource; auction house private sale platforms are adopting their own version of the primary market’s online viewing room. For Phillips, the initiative to expand its digital segment, already underway, was expedited by the sudden impact of the pandemic. Last week, the house launched its new private sale viewing room to make available works by contemporary blue-chip names like Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, KAWS and Lucian Freud.
Among the highest priced works on offer in Phillips’ private sale is a work by conceptual artist and Macarthur genius grant winner David Hammons. His sought-after African American Flag, is one of the elusive artist’s best known works. The asking price is between $1.5 to 2 million.
Absent from public life for much of his career, Hammons has been a crucial figure in contemporary cultural criticism since the 1970s. His practice has been dedicated to the subversion of ownership, and a resistance against the elitism of the white cube commercial art world. For decades, Hammons has rejected dealer representation and wielded curatorial autonomy over his own works.
The work on offer is Hammons version of the United States flag in Garvey colors: a tri-color scheme of green, black, and red, named after civil rights leader Marcus Garvey and founder of the UNIA in 1920, who first used the flag as an emblem of pan-African lineage. Hammons produced the first flag in an edition of five for his seminal 1990 exhibition Black USA at Amsterdam’s Museum Overholland. The show—– the first major European exhibition centered exclusively around African American Artists—was a group exhibition which included pioneering black artists like Martin Puryear and Romare Bearden.
“The first edition of 5 and the second edition of 10 have a slightly different size, making this work quite rare, Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips Deputy Chairman and Worldwide Co-Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art said. “Other flag works by Hammons include the highly visible and unique large-scale flag at the Studio Museum; he also produced a much smaller flag in an edition of 100 at a later date.”
The market for Hammons work is tightly controlled and works do not often come up for sale. Phillips’ Deputy Chairman and Head of Private Sales, Miety Heiden, noted “it is indeed rare to see David Hammons’ works being offered at auction or for private sale. This flag is, in my opinion, his most iconic and historically important work and will likely be quite difficult to find available for sale in the future. It is rare to see it on the market at this time and we are pleased to be able to offer collectors the opportunity to buy it now.”
Institutional buyers are particularly keen on owning one of Hammons’s flags. Last year, a 1990 edition was acquired by the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, the only piece by the artist in the museum’s permanent collection. Another example of the Holland-made early edition of five is included in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. In 2017, another edition of the flag came up for sale in Phillips Contemporary Evening sale, doubling its high estimate of $1M and realizing a total of $2M. Earlier that year, in November, another flag sold at Sotheby’s for $2.2M. The artist’s current record was set in 2013 at a Phillips contemporary evening sale when his untitled iconic crystal basketball hoop from 2000 sold for $8M, surpassing its pre-sale estimate of $5-7M.