“Oh, my goodness, could you by chance be the artist?” a woman asked me before I pushed the bell to enter the Mnuchin Gallery.

“No,” I said. “I should be so lucky and so talented.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, praising the show as she slipped away and down 78th Street.

I have seen photos of the artist David Hammons and met him once more than 20 years ago. Back then I had a rough resemblance to him, both of us Black men, bearded, relatively slim and about the same age.

That I might be mistaken for him was perhaps an honest conclusion because very few Black men attended such art shows. Moreover, I guess in my manner of dress, I had the appearance of an artist.

The encounter could be seen as a metaphor for Hammons, who keeps a very low public profile. I remember attending his show “Concerto in Black and Blue” 14 years ago at the Ace Gallery, where visitors were given a penlight to search the dark. It wouldn’t have surprised me then, although I was hopeful, if Hammons had suddenly been illuminated in the darkness.

Hammons wasn’t there, and he wasn’t at the Mnuchin last week when I arrived to review his “Five Decades.” Except for a stuffed, almost believable cat curled up on a drum, most of the pieces were familiar. Each one of them obviously there to represent the artist’s journey over a half century, one that began in California in the 60s. A piece reflective of that period, when he pressed his greased body against paper, was part of his “Spade” series. His image is depicted as though on a spade playing card.

“I was trying to figure out why Black people were called spades, as opposed to clubs,” he told an interviewer in the late 80s. “Because I remember being called a spade once, and I didn’t know what it meant. Nigger I knew, but spade, I still don’t. So I took the shape and started painting it.”

Deciphering the meaning of Hammons’ work is, on the surface, fairly explicable. He loves to pun, lives to deconstruct and loves to subvert what art is all about. At the same time, beyond the transparency is something that speaks to the essence of African and African-American culture and history.

Basketball is a constant meme, a fertile trope that he has mined in so many engaging and amusing ways. At the Mnuchin is the soaring basketball hoop outfitted in glass, like a chandelier. Both the hoop’s height and the Tiffany-like glimmer appear to signify the glamor and glory of some Blacks on the court and the impossible pinnacle for others.

Almost without exception, his work is a study in duality, such as the pile of broken concrete on a flat surface that is interwoven with fabric, suggesting a hardness and a softness. The mirrors cloaked in ragged cloth or sheets of a material again play on the seen and unseen. My favorite piece, which is not among the dozen or so at the Mnuchin, is suspended outside the Studio Museum in Harlem. It’s the red, black and green flag that in one way epitomizes Black nationalism as it undermines the Star Spangled Banner. There is also a hint of watermelon in the colors.

What I’m trying to say here about Hammons’ work is better said elsewhere, particularly in the free brochure at the Mnuchin. In his works, the brochure opines, “Hammons recycled found objects specifically associated with urban African-American life—chicken bones, cheap liquor bottles, paper bags and hair swept from the floors of Black barbershops—into witty, increasingly abstract creations that subverted expectations for a work of fine art and spoke specifically to an audience traditionally barred from inclusion in the art world.”

Paradoxically, in far too many instances, Hammons’ work is not seen by those who might be better served by his creations. Even so, for an artist who disdains art and the art world, he gets a lot of mileage out of it and so will his patrons and followers who drop in at the Mnuchin at 45 E. 78th Street before the show closes May 27.

Who knows. If you’re a tall Black man, you might be mistaken for the elusive artist.