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Chicago’s groundbreaking sculptor Richard Hunt dies at 88


Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt, whose abstract works included the Ida B. Wells monument in Bronzeville, landmark pieces at the Art Institute and the Smithsonian museum, and whose art could be seen nationwide, has died. He was 88 years old.

He died Saturday at his home in Chicago. according to a statement The cause of death was not stated on the website.

Hunt’s work became known for the mark he made in Chicago and around the world. In addition to the “Light of Truth” Ida B. Wells National Monument in Chicago, Hunt recently created a sculptural model for a monument to Emmett Till, titled “Rising Hero,” that will be installed in the Woodlawn home where Till lived in 2024. completed. with his mother before she was killed during a trip to Mississippi in 1955.

Hunt’s “Jacob’s Ladder” fills the foyer of the Woodson Regional Library in the Washington Heights neighborhood. at the Art Institute “Hero Construction” (1958) is on display at the Grand Staircase.

According to Hunt’s website, the sculptor attended Till’s funeral when he was 19; this moment shaped both his artistic work and his commitment to civil rights. Her work has commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. (“I Been to the Mountaintop”) in Memphis and African-American educator Mary McLeod Bethune (“From the Ground Up” in Washington, D.C.). His bronze work titled “Low Swing” It hangs prominently in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, as a monument to spiritualities.

His artworks, primarily metal sculptures and large-scale public works, made such an impact that, at the age of 35, Hunt became the first African American sculptor to have a retrospective exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1971.

Author Jon Ott spent time with Hunt while writing his 2022 book “Richard Hunt,” which he wrote with LeRonn Brooks, Jordan Carter, Adrienne Childs and John Yau. This book is considered the definitive book on his career.

“There’s so much love for Richard it’s hard to be sad because everyone talks about how much they love Richard,” Ott said late Saturday. He said two things about Hunt stood out to him: his work ethic and how he tried to express the idea of ​​freedom. “His whole life can be seen as something that can elevate metal, give movement to metal, and give life to sculpture. His focus on this concept of freedom—artistic freedom and political freedom, that is, freedom from slavery and segregation—really occupied him. “He expressed all of this through his work.”

Hunt was born on September 12, 1935, on Chicago’s South Side. According to the biography on his website, he was a descendant of slaves, his father was a barber, and his mother was the first Black librarian in Chicago. He grew up in Woodlawn and Englewood and became interested in art, especially welded metal, from an early age after seeing the “Sculpture of the Twentieth Century” exhibition at the Art Institute in 1953. He considers the 1967 Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza an early influence.

Hunt earned a bachelor’s degree in art from the Art Institute School in 1957 and traveled to Europe, marrying SAIC classmate Bettye Hunt in Florence. He served in the US Army from 1958 to 1960. Their daughter Cecilia was born in 1962, but they divorced in 1966.

Hunt became a young American artist to watch after MoMA acquired one of his first pieces. He was the first African American visual artist to serve on the National Council on the Arts (the governing body of the National Endowment for the Arts), appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968.

“He actually conquered the art world as a young man,” Ott said. “He is 35 years old and just had the first retrospective for an African American at MoMA. He later conquered the field of public art. … If you look at his impact on art and artists, his support to art organizations, especially the International Sculpture Center, of which he was a board member, and his critical role in their development, he was constantly contributing. itself.”

“I’d say it came to me while I was working on it,” Hunt said in August when asked by the Tribune’s Darcel Rockett how he came to represent a figure like Ida B. Wells in abstract metal form.

Rockett interviewed by Hunt When honored by the Chicago Public Library. When asked about his favorite track, Hunt replied: “It’s hard to say ‘that’s it’ after you’ve done so many things. “I’m very interested in doing the Emmett Till piece.”

He was as visionary as he was productive. In addition to his work in Chicago, Hunt’s public art is exhibited in 24 states, Washington, D.C., and museums around the world.

Her “Light of Truth” debuted in Bronzeville in 2021 at the former site of Ida B. Wells Homes, a 30-foot-tall bronze curling form. According to a The Tribune story at that time The title of the book, written by Christopher Borrelli, is taken from Wells, who said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” Wells’ great-granddaughter Michelle Duster led the way. long running campaign to build the statue and cover its $300,000 cost. Hunt stated that the work was about “ascension” and said that her parents referred to Wells as “a model of an African American woman making progress.”

In 2022, former President Barack Obama commissioned Hunt to create “Book Bird” as an anchor for the Obama Presidential Center. Ott told the Tribune that Obama visited Hunt on Dec. 11.

“Obama sat next to her and told her how much he and Michelle respected and admired her as a person and the work she did,” Ott said. “It’s pretty unusual to have Obama at your bedside.”

Artist and activist Theaster Gates was also a fan. “I’m sorry we can’t share smiles on this plane anymore, but I’m grateful for everything he gave us,” he said. “Richard did it because he had to. Its drive and singularity belong to another time. I am grateful for the intimate encounters we have had over the years.

Acclaimed Chicago artist Amanda Williams, who is also known for her public works and large-scale works that address racial issues and architectural spaces, said late Saturday that she did not spend much time with Hunt until the last few years. “But what impressed me about him was how productive he was, even at that late stage in his career; He was more productive than me! I remember asking him if he had slowed down his business during the pandemic, and he said, ‘Yes, I have,’ she said. ‘I closed my studio at 5pm on Sundays.’

“He had become sort of an ambassador for Chicago by doing all these public works, and it was puzzling to me how he was able to handle so much bureaucracy and all the institutions involved — for decades. Required dignity. “You made the effort to get around, to get along, to persuade, and he did that along with CDOT, IDOT, the Obama Foundation and many others.”

In November, international contemporary art gallery White Cube announced that it would represent the artist. Sukanya Rajaratnam, the gallery’s global director of strategic market initiatives, said Hunt “has been a giant who has been hiding in plain sight for decades.” White Cube will host a solo exhibition in New York in spring 2024.

According to Ott, the exhibition will focus on the first two decades of his career, primarily from the collection from the 1950s and ’60s.

“Most of them haven’t been seen in 50 years,” Ott said. “Several of these were seen in the 2014 Chicago Cultural Center exhibit. But his entire private collection was certainly never exhibited. “He wanted to live with these pieces all his life, but then he was ready to part with them and think about his legacy.”

Sculptor Richard Hunt at work in his studio in Chicago on August 11, 2023.

Also related to Hunt’s legacy Getty Research Institute He purchased his archives, including sketchbooks, plans and wax models, in 2022. Hunt also founded the nonprofit organization. Richard Hunt Heritage FoundationIt was launched this month to raise public awareness of his art.

“Mr. Hunt’s lasting legacy will live on through the impressive and far-reaching body of work he left behind embellishing our city and the world,” said Michelle Boone, president of the Poetry Foundation. “But his true legacy will be found in the lasting impression he left as a human being. He had a gentle soul but was fiercely devoted to work and hard work. He inspired generations of artists with his work ethic and sense of community. “It has elevated the meaning of “public art” to new levels, and our neighborhoods and communities are even richer for it.”

New Hunt sculptures planned to be installed in 2024 include “Rising Hero” and a work titled “Rise” inspired by the murder of George Floyd. The study will be based at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ott said. And a work titled “Rising Opportunities” will be placed in the new exhibition. Chicago headquarters For Discovery Partners Institute.

“He let his work speak for itself,” Ott said. “It wasn’t exaggerated. He was an intellectual. “He was humble, but he knew what he was doing was important.”

Hunt is survived by his daughter, Cecilia, an artist, and his sister, Marian, a retired librarian, who live in Chicago. A public memorial service will be held in the spring and dates will be announced.


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