Hammering Man

Historical Background

1988, Jonathan Borofsky. 22'h, 110 E. Ninth Street
"Hammering Man" was one of Jonathan Borofsky's signature pieces during the 1980s. It depicts a lanky silhouette figure with his head bent, striking a piece of metal held in his right hand with a hammer held in the hand of his moveable left arm.

Borofsky's identification with workers and childhood memories of sitting on his father's lap while being told stories about friendly giants were the inspiration for "Hammering Man."(1) He began the series in 1976 by drawing a figure that was based on a photograph in the "Book of Knowledge" of a Tuscan shoemaker.(2) His first three-dimensional "Hammering Man" with a moveable arm was 11 1/2' high and exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1980.(3) His second was slightly larger, painted red, with the word "strike" (referring to hitting something and to stop working(4)), stenciled on the torso and exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1981. The third was 24' tall and exhibited in 1981 at the Kunsthalle Basel.(5) The following year, Borofsky exhibited five hammering men in Rotterdam and Kassel, Germany, aligned at different angles and each striking down at different times.(6) His other public installations of the "Hammering Man" are in Seattle,(7) a 44' piece in front of a bank in Basel,(8) and a 70' tall work in Frankfurt.(9)

Borofsky claims his "Hammering Man" is not an innocent piece. He designed the figure to be a universal image that would take on specific meaning from its temporal and physical context.(10) According to Borofsky, "the boring, monotonous repetition of the moving arm implies the fate of the mechanistic world," and the figure "symbolizes the underpaid worker in this new, computerized revolution. The migrant worker who picks the food we eat, the construction worker who builds our buildings, the maid who cleans offices every evening, the shoemaker-they all use their hands like an artist." He also described his "Hammering Man" as "an homage to the assembly-line worker who will be extinct in about fifty years, and so signifies the death of an age."(11) Despite the title, Borofsky created an androgynous "Hammering Man" at California Mart by adding the outline of a tuft of hair on the statue's head. Borofsky assigned number 3066277 to the statue rather than sign it. This system of identification which connects his artpieces, evolved from a process begun in 1969 when he began counting several hours a day to quiet his mind.

As a major showroom for the garment industry in Los Angeles, California Mart described the work as symbolizing "growth, progress and creativity."(12) The management of California Mart was interested in commissioning a public art piece by a California artist that would enhance the building and contribute to the cultural life of the city.(13) Joyce Hunsaker, hired as an art consultant, selected Borofsky after reviewing slides from many artists. Prior to executing the work, Borofsky visited the site.(14) During the process in getting the necessary permits from the City to install the work, the Building and Safety Department defined "Hammering Man" as a sign because of the moveable arm. This categorization delayed installation because the department did not issue a permit until the tenants in the surrounding buildings approved the "sign."(15)


1. "Jonathan Borofsky," by Mark Rosenthal and Richard Marshall, Harry N. Abrams, New York, c. 1984, p. 171.

2 Op. Cit., p. 18.

3 Op. Cit., p. 171.

4 Ibid.

5 Op. Cit., pp. 101.

6 Op. Cit., pp. 102-103.

7 "A Field Guide to Seattle's Public Art," Seattle Arts Commission, 1991, p.22; "Art in Seattle's Public Places," by James M Rupp, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1992, p. 73, 95.

8 "Why Jonathan Borofsky Bowed Out," Kristine McKenna, Los Angeles Times Calendar, July 30, 1989, p.7.

9 "Living Outside His Own Shell," by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1999.

10 Rosenthal and Marshall, Op. Cit., p. 171.

11 Ibid.

12 Interview of Joyce Hansaker by Michael Several, January 26, 1989.

13 Interview of Joyce Hunsaker by Michael Several, January 29, 1989.

14 Interview of Susan Morse-Lebow, an administrator at the California Mart, by Michael Several, January 20, 1989.

15 Ibid.

The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, January 2000.

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