Oh say can you see
Cloth, two metal grommets
242.6 x 154.2 cm (95 1/2 x 60 3/4 in.)
This almost unrecognizable flag, whose colours seem distorted and faded, is indeed that of the United States. The rectangle with fifty stars is no longer white and blue but black on a green background; the thirteen white and bright red stripes are now overdyed with red.
A flag, but one that is soaked in the tears of History, bearing the colours of the banner, created in 1920, of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League). Red, like the blood of African ancestors, like the struggle against slavery; black, like the colour of the skin; green, like the abundance of mother nature, like Africa. A way for the artist David Hammons to awaken our awareness, to recall the tragic genesis of the African-American community; a way to send the United States back to the violence of its history. Gnawed, perforated, and torn on all sides, it no longer floats horizontally in the wind of the American myth, but hangs vertically like the scorned banner of a nation in ruins. Oh say can you see—the title of the work are the very first words of the anthem—referring to this tattered utopia.
Hammons has lived and worked in New York City since 1974, and his experiences there have influenced his work. In his work, he invokes urban sports, most often boxing and basketball, which are often associated with African-Americans. David Hammons always operates in a logic of displacement: he breathes the energy of the street into his works, stirring up Harlem's dust or the hair collected in its barbershops, into spaces dedicated to art. Radical, provocative, hard-hitting, his work draws its strength from art's critical mission to question hierarchies and modes of thought.
This work is presented for the first time in 2021 by the Pinault Collection in the inaugural exhibition of the Bourse de Commerce, entitled "Ouverture".