Melvin Edwards, Texcali, 1965, Welded steel 19.8h x 15.3w x 8.5d in (50.29h x 38.86w x 21.59d cm) Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. © Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Unfortunately, due to an unexpected delay, our featured artist for this program, Melvin Edwards, was unable to join us. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and will email everyone who registered as soon as this program has been rescheduled.
Join us for a conversation with artist Melvin Edwards in dialogue with Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director of the New Museum.
In conjunction with the exhibition “Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America,” the New Museum is honored to host this series of artist conversations highlighting the myriad practices of artists participating in this exhibition.
This program will be presented via Zoom, register for this online program here.
Melvin Edwards (b.1937) is a pioneer in the history of contemporary African American art and sculpture. Born in Houston, Texas, he began his artistic career at the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA, where he met and was mentored by the Hungarian painter Francis de Erdely. In 1965, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA organized his first solo exhibition, which launched his professional career. Edwards moved to New York City in 1967. Shortly after his arrival, his work was exhibited at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and, in 1970, he became the first African American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Edwards’s practice reflects his engagement with the history of race, labor, and violence, as well as with themes of the African Diaspora. Making welding his preferred medium, his sculptures are studies in abstraction and minimalism. Ranging from colorful painted sculptures that expand on the modernist vocabulary of artists like Alexander Calder to barbed wire installations to tangled amalgamations of agricultural and industrial elements, his work is distinguished by its formal simplicity and powerful materiality.
Edwards remains best known for his series of Lynch Fragments, welded combinations of disparate objects that invite competing narratives of oppression and creation. This body of work spans three periods: the early 1960s, when the artist responded to racial violence in the United States; the early 1970s, when his activism concerning the Vietnam War motivated him to return to the series; and from 1978 to the present, as he continues to explore a variety of themes, including his personal connection to Africa. Edwards first traveled to the continent in the 1970s with his late wife, the poet Jayne Cortez. Since his initial trip, he has returned to Africa many times, teaching welding in different countries before ultimately establishing a studio in Dakar, Senegal in 2000.
In addition, Edwards has a longstanding commitment to public art. Since the 1960s, he has created sculptures for universities, public housing projects, and museums. His commissions include Homage to My Father and the Spirit (1969) at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Holder of the Light (1985) at Lafayette Gardens, Jersey City, NJ; and Asafo Kra No (1993) at the Utsukushi-Ga-Hara Open-Air Museum, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Edwards’s large-scale sculptures extend his extraordinary range of aesthetic expression, reaffirming his commitment to abstraction.
Melvin Edwards’s work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally. In 1993, the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, NY organized Melvin Edwards Sculpture: A Thirty-Year Retrospective 1963–1993. In 2015, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, TX presented a second retrospective, Melvin Edwards: Five Decades. This exhibition traveled to the Zimmerli Museum of Art, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ and to the Columbus Museum of Art, OH. Other recent solo exhibitions include Melvin Edwards: Festivals, Funerals, and New Life, Brown University, Providence, RI (2017); Melvin Edwards: Lynch Fragments, Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Brazil (2018); and Melvin Edwards: Crossroads, Baltimore Museum of Art, MD (2019), traveled to Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA (2020). Edwards’s work has also been featured in innumerable group exhibitions, including Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom (2017), traveled to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK (2018), Brooklyn Museum, NY (2018), The Broad, Los Angeles, CA (2019), de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA (2019), and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (2020); Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic 1945–1965, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2016); All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy (2015); Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, Brooklyn Museum, NY (2014); Blues for Smoke, The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA (2012), traveled to Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2013); Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980, MoMA PS1, Queens, NY (2012); and African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2011), traveled to Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2012). Edwards’s work is represented in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Houston, TX; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, NY; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), CA; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, among others. Edwards taught at Rutgers University from 1972 to 2002. In 2014, he received an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA.
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