Art World

A Gilded-Age Mansion Across From the Metropolitan Museum of Art Has Hit the Market for a Breathtaking $80 Million


Gilded-Age mansions are a rarity nowadays, but on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, several still stand. One such tony establishment is the Benjamin N. Duke House, a palatial limestone-and-brick structure that has just entered the market with an asking price of $80 million.

Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

The 20,000-square-foot townhouse—located at 1009 Fifth Avenue—was constructed in the Italian Renaissance palazzo style with Beaux-Arts details. Features include eight bedrooms and 10 bathrooms across seven stories, one grand staircase connecting each story, towering ceilings, a private roof deck, and sweeping views of Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The stunning home, built between 1899 and 1901, last sold in 2010, when its current owner, Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim, purchased it for $44 million. At the time, Slim was the wealthiest person in the world. This is, however, not the first time the residence has been put up for sale by Slim. It was first listed for $80 million in 2015, but failed to move and was later taken off the market.

Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

Interior of the Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

Nor is it the only Gilded-Age mansion in New York City formerly owned by a Duke family member. Just blocks away is the James B. Duke House, named after original owner, the brother of Benjamin N. Duke. Both siblings owned and lived in the Benjamin N. Duke House at different points in the early 1900s.

The Duke family—who made their fortune from tobacco, textiles, and energy—maintained ownership of the abode for over a century, until 2006. James founded the American Tobacco Company and Benjamin served as vice president. 

Architectural firm Welch, Smith & Provot designed the dwelling, which was designated a New York City landmark in 1974 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

View of the Metropolitan Museum from the Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

View of the Metropolitan Museum from the Benjamin N. Duke House. Courtesy of Compass.

According to the listing, held by Jorge Lopez of Compass, “The building can be reimagined as a private residence or converted into a gallery, store, museum, or foundation.” Perhaps its next buyer will transform it into Museum Mile’s latest fixture.

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‘A Face Is Not Just a Face’: Is It Finally Time for the Gay Gaze of Unsung Portraitist Gilbert Lewis?


“I didn’t realize until recently what a profound effect he had on my life,” Anthony Rullo said of the Philadelphia-based figurative painter Gilbert Lewis. He first posed for him in 1986, and would do so, about twice a week, for $6 an hour for the next ten years.

At the time, Rullo was 23 and working at a clothing boutique on South Street, which was still a buzzing bohemian and nightlife area. “My life was total chaos,” he recalled. “I was struggling to pay the rent, going out to clubs, and partying.” Lewis’s studio was nearby, and Rullo would come by after work for two-hour sessions. It didn’t even look like anyone lived there. Paintings were stacked all around. The few pieces of furniture looked scavenged from the street. No TV. No answering machine. The artist was only about 41 at the time, but seemed much older to Rullo.

An undated photo of Gilbert Lewis. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

An undated photo of Gilbert Lewis. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Gilbert Lewis always wore a uniform of khakis and a chambray shirt and was almost as broke as Rullo. It confounded Rullo that selling his work was not part of Lewis’s process. He didn’t even seem to try and would deflect any suggestions. “I know that I’m a good painter,” he said to him. “When I’m dead somebody’s gonna find my paintings and then I’ll be famous and I’ll be appreciated.”

Each day, Lewis painted the pendulum of life. He worked as an art therapist in a nursing home. By day, he painted portraits of the elderly, engaging with them as he rendered them.

Tribute, September 5, 1984, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper, 39 x 59 1/2 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2017)

Gilbert Lewis, Tribute, September 5, 1984. Gouache on paper, 39 x 59 1/2 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2017)

“One of my motivations in painting has been to celebrate the beginning of adulthood for the young and the final period of life for the old,” Lewis said in a 2004 catalogue interview. “What struck me is that both young men and the old are ignored by society. Despite our ostensible focus on youth, young men are in a sort of nether world, no longer teenagers and yet not full adults. They’re in transition with no established identify and no real place in society.” After work, his salary went to paying the male models who populated his vision.

Both jobs could bleed into each other. “When I’d sit for him, it felt like a therapy session,” Rullo said. “He’d want to know all about you. Going to Gilbert’s was the only thing in my life that was normal, consistent, and calm.” These sessions were reciprocally beneficial to Lewis. Most of the portraits took place in his studio and say as much about the painter as they do the subject, documenting intimate human connection and exchange and a pathway of desire.

Rullo insisted he wasn’t a muse, just one of the legion of models who posed for Lewis. The 60 or so portraits produced over the decade prove otherwise and are a fascinating, varied series. The artist would give Rullo slide images of the completed paintings. Many years later, Rullo lined them up in chronological order.

A selection of the slides Gilbert Lewis would give Anthony Rullo after completing a portrait of him. There are around 60 completed works. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

A selection of the slides Gilbert Lewis would give Anthony Rullo after completing a portrait of him. There are around 60 completed works. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

“I could see the trajectory of my life,” he said. “The beginning pictures, I look very young and innocent. And then my attitude toward life changed.” Anthony Rullo was diagnosed with AIDS. “There was no medication, there was no treatment. You could lose your job, your friends, your family,” he said. “I never told Gilbert. You wouldn’t even tell a gay brother or anything. My boyfriend and I and people at that time that were positive, kind of had this ‘fuck it’ attitude. You’d open credit cards and max them out. I’m never paying for this stuff! I was buying expensive clothes, and what I was doing, maybe subconsciously, was creating my legacy. This is how I wanted to be remembered, in these gorgeous clothes. Like I was some important person, which I wasn’t.”

Anthony Rullo wearing a Jean-Paul Gaultier top in 1987. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

Anthony Rullo wearing a Jean-Paul Gaultier top in 1987. Courtesy of Anthony Rullo.

On the day his boyfriend Keith died in 1990, Rullo went to Lewis’s for a session and the truth came out. “He was shocked. Why didn’t you tell me? For the whole year of 1990, every picture looks like I’m crying. Then over time the next five years, you see another change. By the end I’m doing nude paintings and they’ve become more sophisticated.”

Like much of his work, Lewis’s series of Anthony Rullo is a meditation on male beauty and form. But he also captured the gay emotional condition in the throes of the AIDS epidemic. “But he wasn’t making a political statement,” Anthony says.

Lewis was out-of-step with the straight art world for being too gay, but his longing gaze was anachronistic in the queer art of the time—lacking the transgression and hypersexuality of Robert Mapplethorpe or the clarion militantism of David Wojnarowicz and other firebrands in the Act Up 1980s. The tide has now shifted where the quieter voices from the era are now being recognized.

In an undated artist state, Lewis wrote: “The painting of a face is not just a face. My feelings are expressed through these images. My paintings speak to anyone in touch with their own humanity; to anyone else my art may be dismissed as ‘too personal.’”

Rullo stopped sitting for the artist in 1996 and moved to Miami in 2008. They remained friends and kept in touch until they couldn’t. Gilbert Lewis is in a Pennsylvania nursing facility with advanced stage Alzheimer’s. His large body of work must speak for him, and it seems the world is now ready to listen.

Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], December 2, 1981 (L) and Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], October 10, 1981, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2020)

Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], December 2, 1981 (L) and Untitled [Dennis Dunwoody], October 10, 1981, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2020)

“The special part of Gilbert’s work is just how contemporary it was,” said Daniel Kapp. “As young gay men just looking around the room, we see ourselves in all of these works.” Earlier this month he was at Kapp Kapp, the Tribeca gallery he co-founded with his brother, installing “Portraits 1979–2002,” the Gilbert Lewis solo exhibition they curated (until February 25). It’s an inspired and intimate primer.

Installation View: Gilbert Lewis Portraits 1979 – 2002. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Installation view, “Gilbert Lewis Portraits 1979–2002.” The Swimmer is in the foreground. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Anthony Rullo makes some striking cameos, and the charcoal sketches carry emotional resonance and are installed atop a Gilbert Lewis nautical wallpaper design. Some portraits seem like quick, casual neighborhood visits in his daily painting routine. He’s most compelling when he’s serenely grandiose, as in the languid, sumptuous Untitled (Basking Nude) of 1985 and The Swimmer (1984). The latter is on loan from Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, who presented a solo Lewis show of 49 paintings in 2004 when it was a much smaller institution. It was his first and only solo show in the city, and the museum is the only New York institution to have his work in their permanent collection.

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Basking Nude), 1985 Signed and dated '5-19-85' Gouache on paper 60 x 44 inches

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Basking Nude), 1985 Signed and dated ‘5-19-85’ Gouache on paper 60 x 44 inches. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

“A big part of why we’re so interested in his work is this anonymity to New York City, at least in the last 20 years,” said Daniel Kapp. “He flew under the radar in Philly too. There really wasn’t a market for his work. The male nude is still not the most popular thing to buy. Lewis had contemporaries working in similar ways in New York, and those artists have gotten more of their dues.”

If the Kapp Kapp show doesn’t edge Gilbert Lewis into greater art world acceptance, it should at least push him into the greater gay canon beyond being a regional luminary.

The year 2020 should have been the year Gilbert Lewis broke into the mainstream. A quadruple blitz of overlapping solo exhibitions in Philadelphia coincided with the pandemic, which limited the impact of the joint efforts at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (“Only Tony” was comprised solely of Anthony Rullo portraits), the William Way Community Center, Kapp Kapp’s prior locale. The Woodmere Art Museum’s robust survey, “Many Faces, Many Figures” captured the painter’s expansive scope.

Untitled, February 2, 1982, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper, 22 1/4 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Barton Rymshaw, 2017)

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled, February 2, 1982. Gouache on paper, 22 1/4 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Barton Rymshaw, 2017)

“Gilbert was thought of in the arts community as one of the major figurative artists working in his time,” Valerio said, “and somebody who managed to define a compelling idea of what realism could be. Historically, the mainstream of the arts in Philadelphia is realism. We’re the town of Thomas Eakins and Charles Wilson Peale. Gilbert Lewis attended PAFA. He went through the curriculum that was designed by Eakins: Paint what you see, paint what you feel, don’t be afraid of your sexuality. It all comes out in his work.”

He continued, “A lot of people have said that Gilbert didn’t achieve the success that he should have because his subjects were perceived to be gay. Gilbert wanted people to pose in the way they wanted, the way they wanted to be seen.”

After getting his BFA from Philadelphia College of Art in 1974, Gilbert Lewis worked at the Aramis cologne counter at the Wanamaker’s department store, which at the time was a gay hotbed. He decamped to New York for a stint at Bloomingdales. It was a disastrous detour. He lived in a hovel, had no money, and was mugged. He returned to Pennsylvania for a career pivot and in 1978 received his master’s degree in Creative Arts Therapy from Hahnemann University (his thesis was “The Spontaneous Art Productions of an Institutionalized Geriatric Population”).

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Designer Jeans), 1982 Gouache on paper 30 x 22 inches

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Designer Jeans), 1982 Gouache on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

“Therapists become therapists because they need their own therapy,” said Eric Rymshaw, who met him 1979. “He had an odd, unsupportive family. His father was in the military. They lived near a military base in Norfolk, Virginia. Gilbert’s brother never acknowledged him after he came out.”

Rymshaw and Lewis dated for three years. Art was a lynchpin. “A lot of our time was going to museums,” Rymshaw recalled. “In 1982 we followed David Hockney around the Metropolitan Museum. I wouldn’t go up and say hello. Gilbert loved Hockney. He liked paintings that looked fresh and, didn’t look overworked. Immediacy mattered. So, when Gilbert was painting, it was about what he saw, and immediately putting it on canvas, there were never layers and layers and overworking and reworking.”

Still Life with Tulip, 1984, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on Arches paper, 22 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Rymshaw and James Fulton, 2017)

Gilbert Lewis, Still Life with Tulip (1984). Gouache on Arches paper, 22 x 30 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Gift of Eric Rymshaw and James Fulton, 2017)

Rymshaw remembered bringing a lily home from a wedding Lewis wouldn’t attend with him. “Flowers would inevitably go to the studio, he loved them,” Rymshaw said. Lewis spent the following days drawing a series of the bloom decomposing.

“Gilbert painted every day,” he said. “One of the reasons that we didn’t survive was that he so intensely wanted to be in his studio, painting. There was never any time for me. He was always having people come in. He did everything from live models. He never did any photography.”

He added, “Gilbert was sexually driven. I was always very aware that often. I’m sure he had sex with many of the young men.”

Reclining, 1987, by Gilbert Lewis. Gouache on paper, 40 x 48 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2016)

Gilbert Lewis, Reclining (1987). Gouache on paper, 40 x 48 in. (Woodmere Art Museum: Museum purchase, 2016)

Lewis’s business acumen mixed obstinance with self-sabotage. “He hated commissions. A couple of friends commissioned him to paint their kids and he never finished the paintings.” The artist was a perennial at local art shows and group shows. “He’d always cause a problem by what he chose to put on the walls,” Rymshaw said. “He hated the gallery system and how they treated him.”

Rymshaw would overlap with Lewis socially sporadically throughout the years and remembered Anthony Rullo. “Tony was a fashionista and very much an aesthete,” Rymshaw said. “That was their commonality. I would party with them a little bit, and he met many models through Tony’s social circle. All of Gilbert’s attempts at finding his art seemed to happen through Tony. Whether it was a sketch or finished work, if you put them in a row you can see Gilbert trying out one style to another through Tony and it allowed him to experiment.”

Rymshaw met his current partner James Fulton (the two have an architecture and design firm). They’d buy paintings from Lewis when he’d run out of money, and place some with clients.

Gilbert Lewis in 1988. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Gilbert Lewis in 1988. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Lewis eventually settled down with an abstract painter named Doug Bealer whom he met when he was an art school senior. Doug moved into his sparse row house. Each occupied a separate floor and painted in symbiotic isolation. Their relationship lasted many years. After Doug moved out, he committed suicide about a year later. “That’s sort of when Gilbert started to change, and I think not appreciate life as much,” Rymshaw said.

In 2015, the painter Bill Scott ran into Lewis, who hadn’t shown up at the opening of a group show Scott had recently put him in. Scott greeted him. “He was standing there very politely, kind of with armor on, like he had a boundary. He finally said very politely, ‘Excuse me, but have we met?’ And I said, ‘Gilbert, I’ve known you since 1974.’” Scott contacted Rymshaw and the two began meeting at the artist’s house, which was in a state of severe disrepair, to assist him.

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Laying Man), c. 1980 Charcoal and graphite on paper 22 1/4 x 30 inches

Gilbert Lewis, Untitled (Laying Man), ca. 1980. Charcoal and graphite on paper 22 1/4 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Kapp Kapp.

Even when they were boyfriends, despite being younger, Rymshaw was the caregiver of the pair. That dynamic maintained after their breakup throughout their friendship and would evolve to a higher plane. “I don’t think we actually ever fell out of love,” Rymshaw said. Lewis’s dementia progressed and he had to be moved to a full-time facility. Rymshaw and his husband Jim supported his round-the-clock nursing care for over five years.

Rymshaw became director of his estate, and he and Bill Scott began cataloguing the estimated 400 artworks that filled his row house. For the first time in Lewis’s career, there was a concerted sales effort behind him with funds raised going directly to his care. Many works were donated to museums, such as the Woodmere, to maintain his legacy. “These were important pieces that I didn’t want to end up going into some mysterious collection,” Rymshaw said. Their efforts led to the 2020 exhibitions in Philadelphia.

Scott said of the vast archive, “He was out of step with the world and with the trends. It was like looking at a bunch of portraits by Hans Memling for me. You know how you can look at Renaissance portraits and write ten novels about them from what you intuit from seeing them. Gilbert created a whole world of characters.”

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An Oil Sketch Found Covered With Bird Droppings in a Farm Shed Is Actually an Early Van Dyck, Now Heading to Auction for $3 Million


An oil sketch by Anthony van Dyck, executed early in the Flemish artist’s career and rediscovered in a farm shed some four centuries later, will star in Sotheby’s Master Week series, where it is estimated to pull in up to $3 million. 

A Sketch for Saint Jerome is one of only two known live model-based studies by Van Dyck, likely created between 1615 and 1618, when the young painter was working as an assistant in Peter Paul Rubens’s Antwerp studio. The work captures a slouching elderly man, his face in shadow and his lean musculature finely rendered—a depiction that served as a study for Van Dyck’s Saint Jerome (1618–20), currently held by the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. 

The oil sketch was discovered in a barn in Kinderhook, New York, in 2002, and acquired at auction by local collector Albert B. Roberts. Though the back of the canvas was reportedly dotted with bird droppings, Roberts believed the artwork to be a Dutch Golden Age painting and bought it for $600. 

He had his find authenticated in 2019, when art historian Susan Barnes recognized it as a “surprisingly well-preserved” work by Van Dyck. “The oil sketch,” she wrote, “is an impressive and important find that helps us understand more about the artist’s method as a young man.”

The Van Dyck sketch, offered to Sotheby’s by the estate of Roberts, who died in 2021, joins a number of other freshly resurfaced European masterworks in the auction house’s Old Master series.

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, Portrait of A Man, Facing Left, With A Quill and a Sheet of Paper (ca. 1527). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Portrait of a Man with a Quill and Sheet of Paper (ca. 1527), a rare piece by Agnolo Bronzino, will hit the block following a storied line of ownership and misattribution. Munich collector Ilse Hesselberger acquired the canvas in 1927, believing the portrait to be the work of another Florentine artist. During World War II, the painting was seized by the Nazis, reattributed, and installed in various governmental offices in Germany. 

Last year, the work was restituted to Hesselberger’s heirs, who consigned it to Sotheby’s. There, it was restored and its radiant surfaces recognized as emerging from the assured hand of a young Bronzino (and likely even his self-portrait), echoing his other early oils such as Portrait of the Woman in Red (ca. 1533) at the Städel Museum.

The painting leads the Master Paintings auction with a high estimate of $5 million, proceeds of which will benefit the Selfhelp Community Services and the Lighthouse Guild.

Also included in the same sale is an expressive portrait newly attributed to Titian. Titled Ecce Homo—not to be confused with the artist’s massive 1543 composition of the same name that hangs in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum—the unfinished oil is painted with the proto-Impressionist flair that marked Titian’s late period, depicting Christ, crowned with thorns, being presented to Pontius Pilate. It is expected to fetch between $1.5 to $2 million.

Giandomenico Tiepolo, Head of a bearded man in a blue and yellow collared robe (ca. 1757). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Rounding out the sale is a group of Old Master paintings that will enter the market for the first time. Three previously unknown works by Giandomenico Tiepolo, executed around 1757, and forming a set of imagined portraits of Greek philosophers Demosthenes, Socrates, and Aristotle, carry estimates between $80,000 to $2 million each. 

Yet another newly attributed painting, Sebastiano del Piombo’s Portrait of a Woman Holding a Crown of Laurels (ca. 1540s), is making its debut as well. While three other versions of this same portrait exist—most notably, one that was sold at Christie’s London in 2015 from the collection of Lord and Lady Kennet—this particular panel, the largest and with a provenance that goes back to the Russian Dolgorukov dynasty, has been deemed the original. Its estimate starts at $1.5 million.

Sotheby’s Master Week series in New York runs from January 18–30. A public exhibition opens January 21.

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Meow Wolf Will Open Its Fourth Immersive Art Outpost in Suburban Texas, Where It’s Promising ‘Caring’ Vibes


Meow Wolf is coming to suburban Texas. 

This week, the immersive art production company announced the details of its newest location, set to open in Grapevine, a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth, this summer.

Settling into a former big-box retail space within a shopping center that’s also home to a theater, aquarium, and a “LEGOLAND Discovery Center,” the new outpost will boast 29,000 square feet of exhibition space, some 30 separate rooms, a performance venue, and an additional retail space.

Behind-the-scenes work at Meow Wolf Grapevine. Photo: Shayla Blatchford. Courtesy of Meow Wolf.

“We are hiring like mad and the construction barriers that have been put up at [the Grapevine site] can barely hold the collective imagination within,” Meow Wolf Grapevine’s general manager Kelly Schwartz said in a statement

In addition to work by Meow Wolf’s in-house designers, the installation will feature contributions from Texas-based artists, including sculptor Dan Lam, illustrator ​​Mariell Guzman, and painter Carlos Don Juan, as well as offerings from local vendors. 

Behind-the-scenes photos shared by Meow Wolf offer a peak at the company’s preparatory labor, though what the Grapevine installation will ultimately look and feel like remains under wraps. 

Texas-based artist Mariell Guzman. Photo: Jordan Mathis.

In a recent interview on Meow Wolf’s site (the company has its own editorial arm), the lead writer of the project, LaShawn M. Wanak, teased little in the way of aesthetic details, offering a kind of vibe summary of the new branch instead.  

“I can say that it is a story about caring, caring for people,” the writer explained. “When people walk into Grapevine, when they walk into the site, I want their first impression to be: ‘Oh, this is a well-loved place, and the people inside love each other and care for each other.’”

When it opens, the Grapevine location will become Meow Wolf’s fourth dedicated branch, joining outposts in Denver and Las Vegas, and the original project space in Santa Fe. A second Lone Star State installation is in the works, too, as the group prepares to open an outlet in Houston in 2024.

Last May’s announcement of the two new Texas locations was met with criticism online as fans called out Meow Wolf for moving into a state that has curtailed abortion rights and access to gender-affirming care for minors.

In response, the company put out a statement saying that “Meow Wolf has always stood with marginalized people and that includes LGBTQIA communities and women.” 

“We wanna be clear,” the group’s message went on, “we are coming to Texas to bring our support, love, and adoration for those communities by supplying jobs, hosting events, supporting artists, and doing everything we can to give space and time and resources to the communities of Texas facing the most backlash.”

 

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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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