Washington Heights townhouse comes with unexpected surprise: art by David Hammons

By Candace Taylor | March 22, 2011 05:12PM

From left: images from 444 West 162nd Street and 351 East 51st Street

When Pedro Noguera moved into a Washington Heights townhouse seven years ago, his children were thrilled to discover an oversized basketball hoop in the backyard.

“They were very excited,” recalled Allyson Pimental, Noguera’s wife. That is, until the family discovered that the over-sized hoop — decorated with multi-colored bottle caps — wasn’t actually meant for playing basketball. Rather, it was a sculpture by famed conceptual artist David Hammons.

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The sculpture is now for sale along with the house at 444 West 162nd Street near Jumel Terrace. Tracie Hamersley, a senior vice president at Citi Habitats, listed the 3,400-square-foot townhouse this week for $1.5 million, or $6,000 per month for rent.

Hammons is an African-American artist who became famous in the 1970s and 1980s for what he called “Dirty Art” in and around New York City. In 1978, for example, Hammons exhibited “Elephant Dung Sculptures,” balls of elephant dung on a toy cart, with toy elephants and peanuts. In 1983, he staged a sale of snowballs in Cooper Square.

Hammons declined to comment, but a spokesperson for the artist told The Real Deal that the sculpture in Noguera’s back yard was commissioned for the space for A.C. Hudgins, an investor and art collector who owned the townhouse in the 1980s. Hudgins — who was not immediately available for comment — is an enthusiastic collector of Hammons’ work, Pimental said.

A Hammons piece similar to the one installed at 444 West 162nd Street

The sculpture is very similar to one called “Higher Goals” that Hammons erected in 1986 in Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn. Mounting basketball hoops on enormous telegraph poles — far too high for even professionals basketball players to reach — and covering them with multi-colored bottle caps in geometric patterns, the artist was making a statement about the difficulty urban teenagers face in achieving their dreams of basketball stardom.

“It’s an anti-basketball sculpture,” he reportedly said at the time. “Basketball has become a problem in the black community because kids aren’t getting an education. They’re pawns in someone else’s game. That’s why it’s called ‘Higher Goals.’ It means you should have higher goals in life than basketball.”

The sculpture was there when Noguera, a New York University professor, purchased the four-story, six-bedroom house in 2004, Pimental said. (According to city records listed on PropertyShark.com, he paid $1.395 million for it.)

Artist David Hammons

She added that the family has never determined how much the piece — which is still beautiful but has been “ravaged by time,”– might be worth. Because it is very firmly installed in their backyard, it would require a construction crew to move.

Intrigued as the adults were by the find, the youngest members of the family were not that impressed.

“They thought it was a cool-looking basketball hoop,” Pimental said. “The kids were very excited until they realize it wasn’t a working one — it was art.”

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Deep-pocketed renters now have even more options to choose from.

A $50,000-per-month rental at the Beekman Regent in Turtle Bay hit the market yesterday, according to listing broker Dennis Hughes of the Corcoran Group.

The terrace at 351 East 51st Street

The duplex penthouse — on the top floor of the building — is owned by the building’s sponsor, Dennis Herman of Beekman International Center. Construction at the condominium, located at 351 East 51st Street, was completed about 10 years ago, Hughes said. Apartments there feature sterling silver and nickel faucets, and doorknobs crafted from 18-carat brushed gold.

This 4,473-square-foot penthouse has a private elevator entrance, five marble fireplaces, and river views from two wrap-terraces.

Hughes said the last time the unit came on the market in 2009, when it was listed for $39,999 per month, celebrities like Tom Cruise and Hugh Grant toured it. This time around, at least one diplomat has expressed interest so far.

“It’s a really ‘wow’ apartment,” Hughes said.