About the Exhibition
For more than 60 years, New York-based artist Melvin Edwards has created seminal sculpture that addresses identity and cultural history grounded by his belief in the civic, social, and aesthetic value of public art. Public Art Fund first showed Edwards’s work in 1991, and this May will present the first major survey of the artist’s public works at City Hall Park. Brighter Days will include five works created between 1970 and 1996, as well as a new sculpture commissioned in 2020 for this historic show, and will offer an in-depth look at the legacy and impact of Edwards’s practice. The exhibition will explore two key recurring motifs—the chain and the rocker—which carry deep personal symbolism and speak to African-American culture. Edwards uses chain links in different formal iterations: to suggest oppression, but also connection and linkage between generations and communities, and broken chains to evoke liberation or rupture. His practice combines geometric and abstract forms that expand the formal and conceptual boundaries of contemporary sculpture, while drawing on personal experiences and his engagement with the history of race, labor, violence, and themes of the African Diaspora. Brighter Days will resonate with City Hall Park’s history as an African burial ground, the site of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, and more recently the 2020 occupation of City Hall and Black Lives Matter protests. Initially scheduled to open in June 2020, Public Art Fund and Melvin Edwards shifted the date due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and in solidarity with protests at City Hall calling for action to end systemic racism.
This exhibition is curated by Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer
About the Artist
Born in Houston, Texas, Melvin Edwards (b. 1937) began his artistic career at the University of Southern California, where he met and was mentored by Hungarian painter Francis de Erdely. In 1965, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art organized Edwards’ first solo exhibition, which launched his professional career. He moved to New York City in 1967, where shortly after his arrival, his work was exhibited at the then newly-opened Studio Museum, and in 1970 he became the first African-American sculptor to have works presented in a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Edwards has produced more than 20 public works, and exhibited widely in this realm. Four are permanently installed in New York City including Tomorrow’s Wind, a 1991 work commissioned by Public Art Fund for Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park and now on view at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem. He is best known for his sculptural series Lynch Fragments, which spans three periods: the early 1960s, when he 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 such as race, labor, violence and the African Diaspora. In January 2020, Edwards was awarded a fellowship by United States Artists.