sculpture

Standing Two Stories Tall, a Hank Willis Thomas Sculpture Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Is Unveiled on Boston Common


In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the city of Boston has unveiled its newest monument, a Hank Willis Thomas sculpture that now sits on the grounds of Boston Common, the nation’s oldest public park.

Titled The Embrace, the bronze statue is a pair of larger-than-life interlocking arms, inspired by a photo of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, hugging after he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Representing the mutual love and support that made the Kings’ activism possible, it is 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall—about two stories high—and weighs 38,000 pounds.

Cast in 609 pieces from a 3D-printed model at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington state, the massive work was fabricated, transported across the country, and installed in Boston against all odds.

“This was not supposed to happen—literally, there was a global pandemic in the middle of us trying to do a piece called Embrace,” Thomas said during the opening ceremony for the monument, which has been in the works since 2016. (His design, with MASS Design Group, was selected from 125 proposals.)

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

A leader in the Civil Rights Movement known for his nonviolent activism, civil disobedience, and powerful speechmaking, King was assassinated in April 1968. In recognition of his birthday, January 15 has been celebrated as a federal holiday on the third Monday of every year since 1986. He would have been 94 this year.

But the new memorial also highlights the contributions of Coretta Scott King to the Civil Rights Movement—which she was involved in prior to meeting her husband, and remained a leader of after his untimely death.

The city of Boston is an important part of the Kings’ family history, as they met there as students in 1952, just a year before their marriage. King returned in April 1965, addressing a joint session of the Massachusetts legislature about the importance of segregation. The next day, he gave a speech at a Freedom Rally on Boston Common, after leading some 22,000 activists in a Civil Rights march from nearby Roxbury.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Little did I imagine that such a day was possible when I walked through this same Boston Common as a student 10 years ago,” King told the crowd. “This will go down as one of the greatest days that Boston has ever seen.”

That history was honored today at an over-two-hour event marking the installation of The Embrace, which sits at the center of the new 1965 Freedom Plaza, designed by MASS Design Group. The floor features bronze name plates amid the titles honoring other Civil Rights activists who marched with King, nominated by community members.

The city of Boston hopes the work will become a major tourist attraction akin to the Statue of Liberty, with Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley telling the assembled crown that people will travel from all over the world to pay tribute to the Kings and see the “profound work of art—like their love, a masterpiece.”

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The program featured speeches by dignitaries Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, and former Governor Deval Patrick, as well as Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of Embrace Boston, the nonprofit that spearheaded the project—he spoke with tears in his eyes, overcome by the moment.

But it was King’s only granddaughter, 14-year-old Yolanda Renee King, who stole the show, speaking after her parents, Martin Luther King III and Arndrea Waters King. Clearly an impressive young orator in the making, Yolanda was unruffled even when the wind nearly blew away the notes of her prepared speech.

And when NBC10 Boston anchor and the event’s master of ceremonies Latoyia Edwards asked the young girl to tell the crowd more about herself, Yolanda spoke off the cuff in impassioned tones about continuing her grandparents’ work striving for justice no matter what, and praised the statue memorializing their legacy.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>The Embrace</em> in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Commons. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace in the new 1965 Freedom Plaza by design firm MASS Design Group at Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“This is almost like love 360, because this monument is dedicated to their love, and we really need more love in this world,” Yolanda said.

Thomas agreed, embracing—pun intended—Love 360 as an alternative title for the work, which allows viewers to stand inside the arms, as if encircled by a hug. He hopes the monument will be seen a manifestation of the Kings’ love and the power of that emotion. It is also a visible symbol of the Black experience and Black joy, despite generations of struggle faced by the Black community.

“It’s really about the capacity for each of us to be enveloped in love,” Thomas said.

A group show of Hank Willis Thomas’s art collective, For Freedoms, “Let Love Quiet Fear” is on view of Praise Shadows Art Gallery, 313A Harvard Street, Brookline, January 12–February 12, 2023.

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The Guggenheim Bilbao Just Dropped a Rap Video to Raise Funds to Repair Its Jeff Koons Puppy Sculpture and It’s… Well, Judge for Yourself


The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao launched a €100,000 ($118,000) crowdfunding campaign in June to renovate the flowering Jeff Koons Puppy sculpture that stands at its entrance. But it seems donations haven’t been as bountiful as the institution may have hoped.

It’s two months into the campaign and only €28,000 ($33,000) has been raised—just over a quarter of the goal. Now, in a last-ditch effort to revive the fundraising drive, the museum has released a bizarre rap video that “gives voice” to the sculpture and encourages art lovers to donate. It’s called “P.U.P.P.Y.”—and it’s super awkward. 

“It’s the ‘P’ with the ‘U’ with the ‘P’ with the ‘P’ with the ‘Y.’ So please don’t kill my vibe,” raps M.C. Gransan, the Bilbao-born songwriter, in the chorus. The passage ends with another inexplicable plea: “Bring me to life.” 

In the video, Gransan performs at various locations in front of the museum, Koons’s dog often looming in the background. Much of the footage is stylized with retrograde technicolor effects, giving the whole thing the feel of a ’90s-era anti-drug PSA. The beat, meanwhile, was created by someone named ​​Doggy Charles. 

A still from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao's "P.U.P.P.Y." music video.

A still from the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s “P.U.P.P.Y.” music video.

Puppy, as Koons’s 40-foot-tall sculpture of a West Highland Terrier is titled, was installed at the Guggenheim’s Spanish branch in 1997. Since then, “it has turned out to be an icon for the city of Bilbao,” said the museum’s director general, Juan Ignacio Vidarte, in a previous promotional video.

Some 38,000 plants, including begonias, marigolds, and petunias line the structure’s exterior, while inside is an elaborate irrigation system. After two decades, many of the internal pipes need replacing, as do some sections of the artwork’s steel shell. Preventative restoration work is scheduled for September and will allow the structure to consume water. 

In an interview with the Guggenheim this year, Koons said that Puppy was “inspired by my visits to Europe’s baroque cathedrals and the way they achieve this balance between the symmetrical and the asymmetrical and between the eternal and the ephemeral.”

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‘I’ve Always Been a City Girl With a Nature Brain’: Watch Sculptor Wangechi Mutu Weave Worlds Together in Her Sculpture


In 2019, Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu made history with the installation of her gleaming bronze sculptures flanking the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s facade, marking the first time since the building was completed in 1902 that freestanding artworks occupied the space.

The NewOnes, will free Us (2019), as the work was called, were caryatids—traditionally female sculptures meant to provide metaphorical and physical support. But in Mutu’s reimagining, instead of passively supporting they are liberated from their historic place of servitude, presented as individuals of strength and beauty, bringing in a perspective of feminist autonomy.

The artist’s two-decade career has been one of exploration and innovation. Mutu’s body of work ranges from fluid watercolor collages to sculpture, capturing her experience and respect for the natural world while infusing themes of the supernatural and mythological.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of its Extended Play series, Mutu is filmed in her Nairobi studio, where an array of works of varying media are in progress. In the video, the artist describes her childhood in Kenya, where she attended an all-girls Catholic school that exuded “all kinds of feminine energy.” Mutu muses about the contradictions in her education, since during the 1970s and ’80s, the students learned British and European history, but not the history or literature of Africa, since so much of the Kenyan population was Christianized.

Wangechi Mutu, <i>Mirror Faced I; Mirror Faced II; <i>and </i> <i>Mirror Faced III</i> all (2020). © Wangechi Mutu, courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery.

Wangechi Mutu, Mirror Faced I; Mirror Faced II; Mirror Faced III all (2020). © Wangechi Mutu, courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery.

That gap in her education sparked the artist’s interest in other contradictions within various cultures. One of the most obvious and disconcerting to the artist, was how “we worship the image of the woman but denigrate the actual human being of woman,” a fact which she says is “obviously something that has plagued us for a long time.” Other tensions she found through photography, which she describes as an invaluable tool for her work, often providing the backdrop for her dense collages and paintings.

Mutu began exploring how photography and colonization have grown in tandem. “The ‘other’ was photographed, and packaged, and consumed,” Mutu says. “Seeing yourself represented that way impacted you as a colonized ‘other,’ and how your image essentially became who you were.”

Right now at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, Mutu’s collages, paintings, and sculptural human-animal forms are installed within the classical architecture and Western art of the museum, challenging its dominant atmosphere. “When there is a singular voice or story,” Mutu explains, “it tends to be domineering, problematic, and often fictional.”

 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” is on view at the Legion of Honor Museum through November 7, 2021.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Midnight Publishing Group News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

 

 

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Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Controversial Redesign Plan for the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden Get a Final Green Light


The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has voted to approve Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s proposed redesign of the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

The decision, made in a split 5–2 vote by a committee including four new Joe Biden appointees, none of whom are landscape architects, was not without controversy.

“The Hirshhorn benefitted at the Commission of Fine Arts today from the commissioners’ lack of experience, the commissioners’ lack of understanding of commission policies and procedures, and because for the first time in some 20 years, not one of the commissioners is a landscape architect,” Charles A. Birnbaum, CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email.

Sugimoto was tapped to lead the revitalization of the garden after putting his stamp on the institution through the recent renovation of its lobby. He called for expanding the museum’s historic reflecting pool to build a stage for performances.

The plan will include two new entrances and accessible paths throughout the garden, Beth Ziebarth, head of accessability at the Smithsonian, said at a public hearing held by the commission that was broadcast over Zoom.

“Universal accessibility is an overarching institutional initiative to provide equitable access to all visitors wherever possible,” she said.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

But Sugimoto’s design hit a roadblock when Cultural Landscape Foundation voiced its opposition, claiming that the proposed changes would harm the visions of architect Gordon Bunshaft, who designed the museum in 1974, and landscape architect Lester Collins, who led a 1981 redesign of the grounds.

At issue, among other elements, were Sugimoto’s plans to add stone walls inspired by Japanese dry-stacking techniques to the garden.

The museum contended that Bunshaft and Collins drew on Japanese gardens for their original designs, but the Cultural Landscape Foundation said the stone would be a disruption of the Modernist aesthetic of the garden, which exclusively features aggregate concrete.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Rendering of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s redesign of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Although the redesign had received “concept approval” from the commission in 2019, Collins’s 1981 design had since become eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation had hoped that the committee would reconsider preserving the property as work of art in its own right, as Bunshaft intended. (On its website, the Hirshorn says the architect imagined the space as “a large piece of functional sculpture.”)

But landscape architect Laurie Olin supported the redesign, writing in a report for the commission that the garden was “disjointed, tired, and in need of transformation,” and that Sugimoto’s design is “far superior” and “will add a worthy layer.”

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See Works by Ai Weiwei, Rachel Whiteread, and Others at England’s New Blue-Chip Selling Sculpture Park Albion Fields


Londoners seeking an outdoor art escape this summer will have an exciting new destination to add to the map. Albion Fields, a sprawling new 50-acre sculpture garden, opened in Oxfordshire this week. 

The sculpture park is the creation of art dealer Michael Hue-Williams, who owns the property on which he also runs its art space, Albion Barn.

The dealer came up with the idea for the park during the nationwide lockdown. “Walking through these beautiful grounds during lockdown, I realized I have a unique opportunity to share the experience,” he said. “Having access to this land, combined with my numerous years of experience working with contemporary sculpture, made the decision to open an outdoor sculpture park really compelling.”

In the months since, Hue-Williams has gone full tilt to bring the dream to fruition, partnering with four galleries—Marian Goodman, König Galerie, Lisson Gallery, and Goodman Gallery—to realize the installation. Backers of the garden include Nicholas Serota, Jacob Rothschild, Ed Vaizey, Richard Long, and Anish Kapoor. 

James Capper, Treadpad B–Pair 2, Walking Ship 40 Ton Standard displacement 4 Leg. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

James Capper, Treadpad B–Pair 2, Walking Ship 40 Ton Standard displacement 4 Leg. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

This summer, visitors can see 26 works by artists including Alicja Kwade, Ai Weiwei, Rachel Whiteread, Erwin Wurm, and David Adjaye. 

Unlike other sculpture parks of this scale, all the works are available for sale through their respective galleries. Installations will change on a roughly six-month rotation (the first installation is on view through September 25, 2021). Entrance to the garden as well as Albion Barn is free of charge, but requires advance registration. 

The grounds to Albion Fields, which were long used for agriculture, have also been rewilded. Visitors can walk about pathways through a landscape that shifts from a natural lake, a lush meadow, and wooded areas filled with deer, badgers, woodpeckers, hare, owls, and other indigenous creatures.

See more images of Albion Fields below.

Bernar Venet, Indeterminate Line (2016–2020). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Bernar Vernet Studio.

Bernar Venet, Indeterminate Line (2016–2020). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Bernar Vernet Studio.

David Adjaye, Horizon Pavilion (2017). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

David Adjaye, Horizon Pavilion (2017). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde and Albion Fields.

Ai Wei Wei, Sofa in Black (2011). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Ai Wei Wei, Sofa in Black (2011). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Richard Long, Ivory Granite Line (2016). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Richard Long, Ivory Granite Line (2016). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.

Jeppe Hein, Twisted Geometric Mirror. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist and Konig Galerie.jpg

Jeppe Hein, Twisted Geometric Mirror. Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, the artist, and Konig Galerie.jpg

Ryan Gander, More really shiny things that don’t mean anything (2012). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, Lisson Gallery, and Albion Fields.

Ryan Gander, More really shiny things that don’t mean anything (2012). Courtesy of Jonty Wilde, Lisson Gallery, and Albion Fields.

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