American sculptor Richard Hunt is a celebrated figure in African American art history. Hunt's seven-decade-long career as a sculptor has garnered him over 150 solo exhibitions and 160 public commissions worldwide.Read More
Richard Hunt was born in 1935 in Chicago, United States. His parents supported his interest in art from a young age, enrolling him in classes. Hunt began sculpting with clay at 15 in his bedroom studio, later moving to a basement workspace in his father's barbershop.
Hunt earned a B.A.E. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1957. The artist received multiple prizes during his studies and his metalworking career was catapulted in 1956 when the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York acquired one of his pieces.
After graduation, Hunt was awarded the 1957 James Nelson Raymond Foreign Travel Fellowship, which allowed him to travel to England, France, Spain, and Italy. In 1971, at 35, Hunt became the first African American sculptor to hold a retrospective at MoMA.
Hunt's work as an artist and educator active during the Civil Rights movement (1954–1968) has become an emblem and pillar for the community. His archive was added to the collection of Getty Research Institute's African American Art History Initiative in 2022.
Richard Hunt's welded bronze sculptures are rooted in the exploration of growth and freedom, commonly open form and composed from discarded metals from junk shops.
Hunt was greatly inspired by Spanish sculptor Julio González after seeing his work in the 1953 exhibition Sculpture of the Twentieth Century exhibition at SAIC. Two years later, Hunt mastered welding and started integrating metals as a central element to his work.
In 1957, the MoMA acquired his steel work Arachne (1956). The sculpture, which is composed of welded found objects such as an automobile muffler and lampshades, depicts the mythological story in which the goddess Athena transforms a weaver into a spider.
Taking inspiration from González's oeuvre, Hunt similarly employed the techniques of open form sculpture, a movement that embraced negative space over solid masses. Throughout the 1960s, his welded forms took more abstract and linear shapes.
In Opposed Forms (1964), he created a human-sized sculpture that extends both vertically and horizontally, skilfully imbibing a certain loftiness to the material despite its physical qualities. Peregrine Forms (1965) similarly evokes a lofty atmosphere as the form leans to one side as if preparing to take flight.
Hunt's attentiveness to metal, found material, and open form sculpture enabled him to work across a range of scales and public spaces. He has secured over 160 public commissions globally, most of which are found in the U.S.
Hunt's monumental pieces have been commissioned by local governments, places of worship, and arts institutions. Among them, Swing Low (2016), commissioned by Washington's National Museum of African American History and Culture, presents a large-scale gold arrangement of welded bronze suspended from the museum's ceiling.
The Light of Truth Ida B. Wells National Monument (2021), sited in Chicago's Bronzeville neighbourhood, is an outdoor piece with monumental columns viewers can walk through. Standing with three prongs, the sculpture is topped with a burning flame in commemoration of the Black journalist, publisher, and civil rights activist, Ida B. Wells.
Richard Hunt has held over 150 solo exhibitions in his lifetime. Solo exhibitions include The Studio Museum Harlem, New York (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2014); The Sculpture Center, Cleveland; Midwest Museum of American Art, Indiana (both 2008); and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit (1998).
The artist lives and works in Chicago.
Arianna Mercado | Ocula | 2023