Barbara Chase-Riboud is a visual artist and sculptor who for over five decades has produced abstract sculptures rooted in themes of history, identity, and place. Chase-Riboud was the first Black woman to graduate with an MFA from Yale University and, along with Betye Saar, one of the first Black women to exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She is also a bestselling novelist and an award-winning poet.Read More
Born in Philadelphia, Chase-Riboud showed a talent for the arts from an early age, taking classes at the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial by the age of seven. When she was sixteen, the Museum of Modern Art acquired one of her first works, a print she had exhibited at ACA Gallery in New York after winning a competition organised by Seventeen magazine.
After graduating from Temple University's Tyler School of Art in 1956, Chase-Riboud left the United States to study at the American Academy in Rome, during which time she created her first bronze sculptures and held her first solo exhibitions. The trip, which also saw her travel to Paris, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey, would prove hugely influential on her later work, exposing her to artistic traditions outside of the Western canon.
Chase-Riboud returned to America in 1958 to complete her MFA at the Yale University School of Design and Architecture, becoming the first Black woman to do so. Following her graduation in 1960, Chase-Riboud moved to London, before settling in Paris in 1961. Once there, Chase-Riboud befriended many prominent artists, including Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and the photographer Henri-Cartier Bresson, whose protégé Marc Eugène Riboud she later married.
Barbara Chase-Riboud is renowned for creating abstract sculptures that combine the rigid forms of cast bronze or aluminium with the softness of fabric, generally silk or wool. Through their combination of formal elements, Chase-Riboud's works toy with several central dichotomies, including hard and soft, masculine and feminine, and heavy and light.
In 1958, Chase-Riboud developed her own method of the lost-wax casting method, innovating upon a centuries-old process. Chase-Riboud's method involved creating thin sheets of wax that she could manipulate by bending, folding, and severing before taking them to a foundry to be cast, allowing her to create large-scale bronze or aluminium sculptures that appeared fluid or ribbon-like.
Chase-Riboud began to add fibres to her cast-metal sculptures in 1967, resulting in sculptures in which forms cast of bronze and aluminium rest on supports hidden by skeins of silk or wool, creating the impression of the metal being supported by the fabric.
In 1969, Chase-Riboud begun a series of works memorialising civil rights activist Malcolm X, who had been assassinated four years earlier. The 'Malcolm X Steles' are composed of 20 larger-than-life sculptures, each of which comprise a folded, bronze upper, with braids of knotted silk and wool cascading beneath, the patina and fibres ranging in colour between gold, red, and black.
Malcolm X #3 (1969) stands at eight-and-a-half feet, the folds of its bronze upper section recalling the perspectival fragmentation of Cubism, seemingly supported on a plinth of knotted fibres. Also fusing together elements of armour and textile, the work is informed by Chase-Riboud's experiences in North Africa and China, while also embodying the potential of cultural integration represented by modern art, particularly within the context of the Civil Rights movement.
Chase-Riboud is also an accomplished author. Her first book of poetry, From Memphis & Peking, was published in 1974 to critical acclaim. This was followed by Chase-Riboud's first novel, Sally Hemings (1979), for which she gained widespread recognition and was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in Fiction by an American Woman. She has published may other books, including several novels, collections of poetry, a travelogue, and a memoir.
Chase-Riboud has completed several public commissions, including the Wheaton Plaza Fountain (1960) in Wheaton, Maryland, and Africa Rising (1998) at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City. At 18 feet, Africa Rising is Chase-Riboud's largest sculpture.
Chase-Riboud has been awarded the Tannie Award in the Visual Arts in Paris (2013); the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award from the College Art Association (2007); and the Alain Locke International Award from the Detroit Institute of Arts (2007), as well as several honorary doctorate degrees. In 1996, she was awarded a Knighthood of the French Legion d'Honneur.
Barbara Chase-Riboud has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Barbara Chase-Riboud. Monumentale: The Bronzes, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis (2022); Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (both 2014); Barbara Chase-Riboud, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1974).
Group exhibitions include Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2019); Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (2017); Contemporary American Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1970).
Chase-Riboud's work is included in major institutional collections around the world, including the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Ministry of Culture, France; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Collections of France; Philadelphia Museum of Art; National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.; and The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York.
Alena Kavka | Ocula | 2022