Bill Hodges Gallery opens its first exhibition devoted entirely to sculpture

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Bill Hodges Gallery opens its first exhibition devoted entirely to sculpture
Masters of Sculpture installation view.

NEW YORK, NY.- Bill Hodges Gallery is presenting its first exhibition devoted entirely to sculpture. This carefully curated exhibition, Masters of Sculpture, draws from the gallery’s more than 40 year collection, to display more than 150 years of Black history, from emancipation to the present day.

Many of the artworks in this exhibition have been displayed alongside works of other media, but never in a dedicated celebration of sculpture. Included are masterpieces by French sculptors Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier, along with works by highly important African American masters Melvin Edwards, Richard Hunt, Willie Cole, and a host of others.

The gallery still retains its strength of collection in the flat or two-dimensional works, yet the collection of three-dimensional has grown over the years and the gallery feels the time is now to showcase a special exhibition of works that are so often put on the back burner, sculpture. As sculptural work can sometimes produce a greater statement than painting, and can more readily represent or challenge the public’s understanding of human, social, and natural phenomena, this exhibition is devoted to that challenge.

Two French masters, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Charles Cordier are represented in this exhibition with their enduringly famous sculptures, 1868’s Pourquoi Naître Esclave! and La Capresse des Colonies modeled in the 1860s. Same works of other materials and versions of these two are now on display in the groundbreaking exhibition Fictions of Emancipation: Carpeaux Recast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The juxtaposition of works by Carpeaux and Cordier in Masters of Sculpture is in the point of fact a re-examination of the depiction of Black figures that were portrayed by European artists in the post-emancipation period.

The exhibition continues and contrasts these 19th-century works with a generous selection of sculptures by American contemporary masters. One of the most acclaimed pioneering abstract sculptors, Melvin Edwards works with found industrial objects like chains, nails and other such utilitarian tools into conglomerate hung sculptures, referencing the racial violence experienced by Black people around the world. In Culture, Edwards vertically stacks circles, rectangles, and a triangle into one form. Such abstract vocabulary allows for direct references to the subject matter – a personal story or history can be felt rather than just told, as is quite often the case of figurative works which directly communicate a narrative. Edwards uses abstraction to viscerally engage audiences in histories and discourses important to Black Americans.

On yet another note, Richard Hunt is included in this show with both museum-scale large works and smaller sculptures. Model for Flight Forms, from 2003, combines Hunt’s interest in ancient styles with European and American modernism and African metalwork in a wing-like form and symbolizes the theme of flight. A model for the commissioned work at Midway International Airport in Chicago, this maquette unites a variety of forms in an upward-sweeping composition that suggests the defiance of gravity, dynamism, and the wonder of flight. Its tendrils seem to depict the natural course of air itself, capturing nature’s ineffable beauty in cast bronze; and it can be appreciated as an independent work of art.

Masters of Sculpture is above all a celebration of the human capacity to acknowledge incongruity and use it to powerfully ennobling effect. This exhibition also features works by Agustín Cárdenas, Richmond Barthé, Elizabeth Catlett, among others.

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