Beginnings Part 3 supplement — Opacity and the Artwork of David Hammons

David Hammons.  Image via .

David Hammons.  Image via


One way of engaging an audience is to occlude their ability to perceive.

For instance, consider “Made in Hong Kong,” the opening song on Christian Fennesz’s album Endless Summer


Notice how the static becomes a mist, and we lean forward, for instance, just after the 0:30 mark when we hear what sounds like fragments of a song emerging from the misted shroud.  We get more fragments as the piece continues, and a natural response is to wonder what it might become. 

The album emerges out of this static mist so that, several tracks later, we hear something as clearly presented as “Shisheido,” a piece to which we have free access.


It is as if “Made In Hong Kong” told us, “I’m going to keep it from you,” which teases us into listening forward.

This principle of opacity arousing intrigue informs the artwork of David Hammons. 

I once saw a show of his, "Concerto in Black and Blue," in which the viewers were each handed penlights, which they used to navigate a series of dark rooms.

Viewers exploring David Hammons's "Concerto in Black and Blue."  Image via .

Viewers exploring David Hammons's "Concerto in Black and Blue."  Image via



“How big is this room?”  “Where is the next room?”  The penlights provided only limited information.  By hiding everything, the piece aroused a viewer’s desire to explore.

These paintings, wrapped in plastic tarps and trash bags, arouse curiosity by similar means. 

Images via .

Images via

These coverings aren’t coming off the paintings, and soon enough the viewer will recognize the covering of the art as part of, perhaps the main aspect of the art in question.  Nevertheless, note the importance of the little bits of painting that peek through the gaps and holes in the covering.  Hammons leverages our reflexive curiosity about what is hidden to bring us face with something else.

Thank you for reading.