Contemporary

Dealer Francois Ghebaly Is Opening a Second Space in L.A., Joining a Growing Throng of Galleries in Hollywood


Veteran Los Angeles dealer Francois Ghebaly is expanding into a new space in Hollywood.

Next week—not coincidentally just ahead of the latest edition of Frieze Los Angeles—he will open a his second gallery in a raw, un-renovated space, left “as we found it.”

“I was looking for spaces and I came across one that was perfect for us,” Ghebaly told Midnight Publishing Group News. The dealer previously operated galleries in L.A.’s Chinatown and then Culver City in the early aughts. For the past decade, Ghebaly has run a space in downtown L.A. “We’ve been downtown about 10 years. We have a wonderful space and community there and it’s been very successful. We love what we’ve done there.”

The facade of Francois Ghebaly's new space in Hollywood. Image courtesy Francois Ghebaly.

The facade of Francois Ghebaly’s new space in Hollywood. Image courtesy Francois Ghebaly.

“We’re not moving away, we’re expanding,” he said of the new Hollywood locale, which is situated off of Santa Monica Boulevard, on Poinsettia Drive.

“We are going to have a wonderful gallery that kind of keeps the spirit of our downtown gallery.” Both spaces are housed in 1940s-era buildings with brick facades.

Ghebaly said the new site is “basically the very beginning of West Hollywood, so my immediate neighbors are Karma and Nino Meier, and right down the street from Jeffrey Deitch and Matthew Brown.”

Sharif Farrag, Bodach, (2019). Image courtesy the artist and Francois Ghebaly.

Sharif Farrag, Bodach, (2019). Image courtesy the artist and Francois Ghebaly.

The gallery will open with a show of work by Patrick Jackson, and then will shut down for a while. Ghebaly is in conversation with several architects about the space, but hasn’t decided what route he will take.

When the gallery reopens, it will be with a solo show from Sharif Farrag, a young L.A.-based artist. Farrag’s fantastical ceramic sculptures feature a mashup of imagery including body parts, cigarettes, pop-culture cartoon references and imagery from graffiti and skater culture as well as his Syrian-Egyptian heritage. “He’s been building on an incredible body of work,” said Ghebaly.

Patrick Jackson, Heads, Hands and Feet, (2011). Installation view, "Made in L.A. 2020: A Version," The Huntington, Los Angeles, CA.

Patrick Jackson, Heads, Hands and Feet, (2011). Installation view, “Made in L.A. 2020: A Version,” The Huntington, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is “such an ever-changing city and there is a very exciting group of galleries and a great community that is developing in Hollywood,” Ghebaly said. “L.A. is such a large, wide city that there are many cities within L.A. itself. In Hollywood, something very exciting is happening right now, and I felt like it would be interesting to be a part of it.”

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The New ICA San Francisco Opens Its Doors With an Artist-Curated Show About Black Women and Freedom


The Bay Area’s newest institution, the ICA San Francisco, celebrated the final phase of its opening last night, unveiling its biggest gallery space with a compelling group show on the importance of celebrating Black beauty, rest, and self expression, curated by California artists Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon.

Titled “Resting Our Eyes,” the exhibition features works from both big names and rising stars, with impressive loans by the likes of Carrie Mae Weems, Derrick Adams, Sadie Barnette, Genevieve Gaignard, and Simone Leigh.

Breon, who lives in Los Angeles, and Rasheed, who is from Oakland, met through the For Freedoms artist collective. (Group cofounder Hank Willis Thomas is among the artists featured in the show, along with his mother, photographer Deborah Willis.)

“So many people within the network just kept on assuming that we knew each other,” Breon told Midnight Publishing Group News at the exhibition’s opening reception. When they were finally introduced, the connection was instant.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at "Resting Our Eyes" at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by  Vikram Valluri for BFA.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at “Resting Our Eyes” at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by Vikram Valluri for BFA.

The two have spent the past year curating “Resting Our Eyes,” which offers a taste of founding ICA director Alison Gass’s socially minded vision for the institution, which looks to focus on under-represented voices in the art world.

The show’s theme was inspired by the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists who began meeting in 1974.

“Basically the idea is that if and when black women are free, everyone else in the world will inevitably be free, because the systems that oppress black women would have to be dismantled and everyone else would benefit from it,” Breon said.

“When T and I started thinking about the mechanisms for freedom, we kept going back to leisure and adornment,” she added. “We were looking for the artwork that tells the story how we adorn ourselves and how we prioritize rest, because we see both of those as really necessary acts.”

See some of the works from the show below.

Adana Tillman, <em>Wild Things</em> (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Adana Tillman, Wild Things (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Gaignard, <em>Look What We've Become</em> (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Gaignard, Look What We’ve Become (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Sadie Barnette, <em>Easy in the Den</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Sadie Barnette, Easy in the Den (2019).
Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter)</em> (1971/2008) from "Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America." Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Hank Willis Thomas, Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter) (1971/2008) from “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by
Corporate America.” Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Lauren Halsey, <em>Untitled</em> (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Lauren Halsey, Untitled (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Traci Bartlow, <em>Girl Boss</em> (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Traci Bartlow, Girl Boss (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, <em>Headdress 1</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, Headdress 1 (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Ebony G. Patterson, <em>...they wondered what to do...for those who bear/bare witness</em> (2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Ebony G. Patterson, …they wondered what to do…for those who bear/bare witness
(2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Resting Our Eyes” is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, 901 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, January 21–June 25, 2023. 

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We Tagged Along With Florie Hutchinson, San Francisco Arts Expert, to View FOG and Much More


If you want an expertly guided crash course in the San Francisco art scene, look no further than Florie Hutchinson, a mother of four and arts publicist extraordinaire with her finger firmly on the pulse of Bay Area arts and culture.

A passionate advocate for artists and feminist causes—she conceived of and successfully campaigned for the adoption of an official emoji of a women’s ballet flat—Hutchinson has a keen eye for data and numbers, which she believes makes a strong case for San Francisco as a major art market capital.

”A lot of people don’t realize that San Francisco has under a million people. The population is 815,000. But our GDP—I was looking this up today—is $577 billion,” Hutchinson told Midnight Publishing Group News. “That’s a lot of punching power on a per capita basis. So there’s no question that the disposable income is here, there’s no question that the intellectual capital is here, and where there’s intellectual capital, there’s curiosity, and curiosity and contemporary art are natural bedfellows!”

When I touched down at the San Francisco airport the afternoon of the first day of FOG Design and Art, the city’s pre-eminent art fair, Hutchinson was there to pick me up in her Tesla Model X, with a full day’s itinerary of art activities to squeeze into the few hours before we were due at the opening gala.

Florie Hutchinson and Micki Meng at "Omari Douglin: The People of New York City." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Florie Hutchinson and Micki Meng at “Omari Douglin: The People of New York City.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Hutchinson has lived in Palo Alto down on the San Francisco peninsula since 2014, when her husband, Ben Hutchinson, founded a financial tech startup. At the time, their daughters were two and five months years old. Two more girls have since joined the brood, and the family has purchased and renovated a historic, beautifully appointed Joseph Eichler home that has been featured in the London Times, Elle Decor, and Wallpaper.

Prior to settling on the West Coast, the couple had previously lived in London (he is British), where Hutchinson (Swiss-American) had spent three years running an agency with Carrie Rees (who now runs the London arts communications firm Rees and Co).

But while Hutchinson had a built-in group of close college friends who lived on the peninsula, she had to build out her professional network in her new home from scratch.

Omari Douglin, <em>Birkin Sermon Manifestation</em> (2022). Photo courtesy of Micki Meng Gallery, San Francisco.

Omari Douglin, Birkin Sermon Manifestation (2022). Photo courtesy of Micki Meng Gallery, San Francisco.

Our first stop of the day, coincidentally, was with the first contact she made, curator Micki Meng. They met when Hutchinson went to visit the Wattis Institute at the California College of the Arts in the hopes of buying a limited edition work, and, when she couldn’t find anyone at the front desk, poked her head into the back room.

“I introduced myself to Micki, and that conversation turned into three hours, and immediate friendship!” Hutchinson recalled.

Meng was waiting for us with sandwiches and dill-flavored potato chips in the Bayview location of her gallery, which she opened in Chinatown in 2019. The second space, housed in an old woodworking studio, is currently showing a selection of new diptychs by Los Angeles artist Omari Douglin, inspired by his native city of New York.

Koak with two of her paintings at her solo show at Altman Siegel in San Francisco. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Koak with two of her paintings at her solo show at Altman Siegel in San Francisco. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Then it was off to Altman Siegel, one of 15 galleries at the Minnesota Street Project. (Owner Claudia Altman-Siegel was another early Bay Area connection—the two bonded over both having young children when the dealer spotted some spit-up on Hutchinson’s shoulder at a gallery opening at Jessica Silverman.)

The gallery had just opened a pair of exhibitions, including one of cartoon-like paintings and vaguely Seussian sculptures by local artist Koak. She was there to give us a tour of the show, which she described as being about “stress, anxiety, and human disaster.”

The other show was the gallery’s first time working with the estate of Beth Van Hoesen, who was born in Boise, Idaho, in 1926, but spent much of her life living in a former firehouse in San Francisco’s Castro District.

Beth Van Hoesen, <em>Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour</em> (1997). Photo courtesy of Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

Beth Van Hoesen, Sister Zsa Zsa Glamour (1997). Photo courtesy of Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

The gallery is donating a portion of the sales of her delicate drawings of her friends and neighbors, which form a poignant portrait of the Castor’s queer community in the 1980s, to the Rainbow Honor Walk, a nonprofit that celebrates LGTBQ history with bronze sidewalk plaques throughout the neighborhood.

Next door to Altman-Siegel was the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, a space dedicated to the private collection of Nion McEvoy and his family.

“He’s a beloved figure in the Bay Area. That generation cares deeply about keeping the arts ecosystem here alive and thriving,” Hutchinson said as we took in the current group show “Color Code.” Curated in celebration of the foundation’s fifth anniversary, it featured new commissions by Bay Area artists Sadie Barnette, Angela Hennessy, Clare Rojas, and Zio Ziegler, as well as other selections from the collection.

Sadie Barnette, <em>Family Tree II</eM> 2022. Photo by Henrik Kam, courtesy of the artist; Jessica Silverman, San Francisco; and McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco.

Sadie Barnette, Family Tree II 2022. Photo by Henrik Kam, courtesy of the artist; Jessica Silverman, San Francisco; and McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, San Francisco.

As the day continued, it became clear that Hutchinson is a never-ending fount of knowledge about who’s who in the Bay Area, and what connects them. We didn’t have time to pop in the Minnesota Street Project’s main gallery campus, but as we drove by, I mentioned that I had loved one of the shows I had seen on my last visit to the Bay—Gay Block’s “Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust” at Jack Fischer Gallery.

The show was spearheaded and funded, Hutchinson informed me, by Pamela Hornik, a Palo Alto art collector and arts philanthropist. Hornik had seen some of the photos, taken in the late ’80s, and was captivated by the story they told, of ordinary men and women across Europe who risked everything to hide Jews from the Nazis.

Later at the gala, Hutchinson would introduce me to Hornik, who is such a booster of the local art scene that she literally volunteers to greet visitors at the front desk of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, where she is a board member.

“It’s my favorite thing to do,” Hornik told me.

Artist Sarah Meyohas was walking by and I enlisted her to join this photo with Florie Hutchinson and Lisa Ellsworth outside "Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse." Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Artist Sarah Meyohas was walking by and I enlisted her to join this photo with Florie Hutchinson and Lisa Ellsworth outside “Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse.” Photo by Sarah Cascone.

But before we got to the fair, we stopped first at the entrance of the venue, the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, to check out the Guardhouse. The tiny, 100-square-foot building dates to 1926, not long after the site, now administered by the National Park Service, opened as an army base.

This week marked the opening of the first in a new series of artist takeovers of the diminutive space, responding to the site’s natural and cultural history, organized by the FOR-SITE Foundation, an art nonprofit founded by San Francisco art dealer Cheryl Haines in 2003.

Local artist Kija Lucas had covered the walls with a gorgeous botanical wallpaper featuring plants like fennel and English ivy—familiar to any Bay Area resident, but actually invasive.

“These plants suggest home for a lot of us, but they have complicated histories,” curator Lisa Ellsworth told us during a tour of the show, which can only be seen through the Guardhouse windows.

Installation of "Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse." Photo courtesy of FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco.

Installation of “Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse.” Photo courtesy of FOR-SITE Foundation, San Francisco.

It also features Lucas’s framed photos of native species like the endangered Franciscan manzanita, and of the tools used by staff at the Presidio Nursery at Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to propagate and tend to these indigenous plants.

Reflecting on the whirlwind day, the exhibition almost seems like a metaphor for San Francisco during FOG. By which I mean local artists and art organizations—carefully tended by the area’s dedicated art enthusiasts, such as Hutchinson—still in bloom amid transplants from all over the world.

Omari Douglin: The People of New York City” is on view at Micki Meng, Bayview, 1720 Armstrong Ave #1A, San Francisco, California, December 16, 2022–January 27, 2023.

“Koak: Letter to Myself (when the world is on fire)” and “Beth Van Hoesen: Punks and Sisters” are on view at Altman-Siegel, Minnesota Street Project, 1150 25th Street, San Francisco, California, January 17–February 25, 2023.

“Color Code” is on view at the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, Minnesota Street Project, 1150 25th Street, Building B, San Francisco.

Kija Lucas at the Guardhouse” is on view at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, Festival Pavilion, 2 Marina Boulevard, January 14–March 12, 2023.

FOG Design and Art is on view at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, Festival Pavilion, 2 Marina Boulevard, Landmark Building C, Suite 260, San Francisco, California, January 18–22, 2023.

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What I Buy and Why: Miami’s Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs on Their Artist-Featured Dinner Parties and Their Wall of Dog Paintings


Art is at the heart of the relationship for Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs. The couple got married 15 years ago on their shared birthday, March 13, and celebrate their anniversary each year by buying a new work for their collection.

There is also their business, Thomas Fuchs Creative, which works with skilled artisans to help bring their high-end handmade design objects to a broader audience. Fuchs, a graduate of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C., is the creative director, and Mahtani, the former global brand director of Rémy Martin, is the director of public relations.

But where their passion for art really shines is during Miami Art Week, when they host their annual Tavolo Dinner Series, inviting a local artist they love to completely make over their apartment to create an immersive art installation.

Mahtani had experience hosting events with artists at Rémy Martin—albeit with the power of a major company behind him—and started the series as a way of connecting to the local art scene after the couple moved to Miami five years ago.

Capucine Safir, for Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs Creative's Tavolo Art Dinner Series. Photo by Nestor Sandoval.

Capucine Safir, for Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs Creative’s Tavolo Art Dinner Series. Photo by Nestor Sandoval.

Past artists have included Tom Criswell, Tony Vazquez-Figueroa, and Aidan Marak. For a dinner with Frida Baranek, who had recently done a photography project on a zero-gravity flight, Mahtani even created a fanciful tablescape with melamine plates floating atop waves of industrial chicken wire.

We spoke to Mahtani about what attracts them to a work of art, and how they live with each work in their collection.

Tony Vazquez, <em> Black Mirror V</em> in the bedroom of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs. Photo by Josue Acosta.

Tony Vazquez, Black Mirror V, in the bedroom of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs. Photo by Josue Acosta.

What was your first purchase?

Our first joint purchase was made in Paris fifteen years ago. We were in a taxi speeding to the airport when we were stuck in traffic and looked to our right and saw a HUGE cow staring at us from a gallery window. We stopped the taxi immediately and rushed into the gallery and bought the cow by the artist Wang Zhiwu!!! I felt like we literally were in a scene out of a movie. We both got to the airplane gate and we could not believe what we had just done.

What was your most recent purchase?

In 2020, for our birthdays, we purchased a collage of a robot entitled Madness Will Out by Addie Herder. We were in lockdown and Thomas was surfing the web and fell in love with her collage. Flash forward to 2023, and the artist is having a solo show at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Art Museum in Miami. Thomas sits on the board of the museum, and she will be the featured artist for our Tavolo Dinner Series in December.

Addie Herder, <em>Madness Will Out</em>. Photo by Mateo Serna Zapata.

Addie Herder, Madness Will Out. Photo by Mateo Serna Zapata.

Which works or artists are you hoping to add to your collection this year?

More Lalanne. We are huge fans of the couple François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne and own a piece gifted to me by my parents. On a trip to France, my mother was so taken by the birds that my father bought her one. That bird ended up being a Lalanne sculpture, which has now taken flight and landed ever so gently up on a perch in our bar area.

Black Mirror V by Tony Vazquez-Figueroa sits above our bed, however the one I pine after is his large canvas works. They are a play on the petrol from Venezuela that is in abundance, but ironically the locals can’t benefit from their own country’s rich resources.

Bernard Buffet, <em>Bugs</em>, in the dining room of Thomas Fuchs and Michou Mahtani. Photo by Josue Acosta.

Bernard Buffet, Bugs, in the dining room of Thomas Fuchs and Michou Mahtani. Photo by Josue Acosta.

What is the most expensive work of art that you own?

Bernard Buffet. Both Thomas and I are huge fans of Buffet, who we discovered on one of our many sojourns to Paris. He had a rich personal history having been the ex-boyfriend of both Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. We recognized the allure both designers saw in a young Bernard Buffet—apart from his matinee idol features. We acquired the piece we have from his “Bug” series at a gallery in Paris which now frames our dining room. Thomas was even inspired by the piece to create our bug table linen collection.

But for us, it’s more the journey to discovery and how we acquire the piece that holds the value for us. We have a wall of dog paintings that range from exquisite valuable pieces to flea market finds that continually bring a smile to our face every time we walk by them.

Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs's "Dog Wall." Photo by Carlos Urdantea.

Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs’s dog wall. Photo by Carlos Urdantea.

Where do you buy art most frequently?

We absolutely love living in Miami. With Art Basel Miami we are surrounded by local and international art and artists, but the truth is we acquire most of our artwork when we travel. In all the countries we travel to for manufacturing our collections—India, Italy, Egypt, France—our passion for discovery and finding new artists, new galleries, and new ideas is what feeds our souls. More times than not, it ends up in us bringing home a piece of art.

Is there a work you regret purchasing?

No. All our artwork, whether sculpture or painting, is so highly personal to us. The art is not just an investment, but also an emotional transaction. Everything we’ve bought has meaning for Thomas and I both, so we’ve yet to regret or resell anything we have purchased.

A work by an unknown Brazilian artist in the living room of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs. Photo by Michael Stavaridis.

A work by an unknown Brazilian artist in the living room of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs. Photo by Michael Stavaridis.

What work do you have hanging above your sofa?

Our living room is a mix. There’s a sculpture from artist Sharon Berebichez, a set of floral paintings by our friend and renowned teacher and artist Mary Beth Mckenzie, and the large-scale showstopper of a piece was gifted to Thomas over twenty years ago. We only know it was done by a Brazilian artist. Surrounded by windows, the reflection of light at different times of day illuminates the depth and dimension of the painting. It’s a fan favorite of all our guests.

A Mary Beth McKenzie painting in the living room of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs. Photo by Michael Stavaridis.

A Mary Beth McKenzie painting in the living room of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs. Photo by Michael Stavaridis.

What about in your bathroom?

We have a modern photograph by the photographer Mary Beth Koeth of the legendary WNBA player and Olympian, Lisa Leslie. This photograph was initially for an ESPN “Legends of Basketball” exhibition, and they wanted a yellow background to make it bright. Mary Beth gifted this to us a few years ago and we love it in the bathroom hanging next to our collection of Rosenthal plates by Danish artist Bjørn Wiinblad.

Mary Beth Koeth, <em>Lisa Leslie</em>. Collection of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs.

Mary Beth Koeth, Lisa Leslie. Collection of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs.

What is the most impractical work of art you own?

Where do I start? A huge 180-pound life-size Han Dynasty ceramic dog sits on a pedestal in our dining room overlooking our table. While on a manufacturing trip in Hong Kong, Thomas toured the infamous Hollywood Road antique neighborhood, and came across this dog that he fell in love with. Being dog lovers, we resonate with any artwork featuring dogs. After our wall of dog portraits, this was a natural progression for us to acquire the dog sculpture. It’s impractical because of its size and weight—it’s almost like having a Great Dane living in our dining room!

A Han Dynasty dog sculpture in the dining room of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs.

A Han Dynasty dog sculpture in the dining room of Michou Mahtani and Thomas Fuchs.

What work do you wish you had bought when you had the chance?

Katherine Bernhardt. I am such a big fan of her style. I remember seeing a huge Pink Panther I liked for under $10,000 a few years ago, now her work sells for upwards of $150,000. My love for the Pink Panther can be traced back to my childhood. My mother actually painted my bathroom grey and pink and made a Pink Panther-themed bathroom. So naturally, I live in daily regret for not buying it when we had the chance.

If you could steal one work of art without getting caught, what would it be?

Would we really steal? If no one was looking…maybe! First on the list would be a piece by Morris Louis, inventor of the Color Field movement. We love Morris Louis’s work because it is classic but yet so modern. What could look to the naked eye as simple has a depth and a current that moves one’s soul. Is that too deep and poetic?

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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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