Melvin Edwards

Melvin Edwards is a pioneer in the history of contemporary African-American art.
Edwards was born in 1937 in Houston, USA. He lives and works just outside of New York, USA and Dakar, Senegal.
Edwards is celebrated for his distinctive sculptures and three-dimensional installations created from welded steel, barbed wire, chain and machine parts. While the artist’s formal language clearly engages with the history of abstraction and modern sculpture, Edwards’ work is born out of the social and political turmoil of the civil rights movement in the United States. Themes of race, protest and social injustice permeate the artist’s practice.
The artist’s career began in southern California with a solo exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1965. In 1970, Edwards went on to become the first African-American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, presenting a ground-breaking installation of work made from barbed wire. Toying with the duplicity of meaning and contradictions embedded in objects, the artist states in the accompanying catalogue:
“I have always understood the brutalist connotations inherent in materials like barbed wire and links of chain and my creative thoughts have always anticipated the beauty of utilizing that necessary complexity which arises from the use of these materials in what could be called a straight formalist style.”
Edwards is perhaps best known for his ‘Lynch Fragments’ series. Inspired by the practices of modernists such as Julio González and David Smith, the series spans three distinct periods from the artist’s life; the 1960s, during which work evolved in response to racial violence in the United States; the 1970s, in protest against the Vietnam War; and from 1978 to the present, during which work for the artist became a vehicle to honour individuals, consider nostalgia and explore his interest in African culture and artefacts. Both the materials – metal objects such as hammers and chisels forged together – and the titles of individual works refer to hard physical labour and the history of brutality against the black body.
Public Art Fund presented the first major survey of Edwards’ outdoor works at City Hall Park, New York in May 2021. The artist’s work currently features in the new hang of the collection at MoMA, New York. In April 2020, the artist exhibited at Glasgow International in Scotland. Edwards was recently awarded the prestigious US Artists Fellowship 2020. Edwards was included in the landmark touring exhibition ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’, initiated by Tate Modern, London in 2017.
Other notable solo exhibitions include: ‘Melvin Edwards’, auroras, São Paulo, Brazil; travelling to Museu da República, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (MAM), Salvador, Brazil; Museu Nacional da República, Brasilia, Brazil and Museu Afro Brasil, São Paulo, Brazil (2019–2020); ‘Melvin Edwards: Crossroads’, Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland, USA; travelling to Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA and University of Southern California Fisher Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, USA (2019-2020); ‘Melvin Edwards: Lynch Fragments’, MASP, São Paulo, Brazil (2018); ‘Melvin Edwards: Festivals, Funerals and New Life’, David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, Rhode Island, USA (2017-2018); ‘Melvin Edwards’, Oklahoma Contemporary, Oklahoma, USA (2016); ‘Melvin Edwards: Five Decades’, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas, USA; which travelled to Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA and Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, USA (2015-2016); ‘Melvin Edwards’, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, UK (2014-2015); ‘Melvin Edwards: Lynch Fragments’, Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan, USA (1998); ‘Melvin Edwards Sculpture: A Thirty-Year Retrospective 1963-1993′, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas, USA (1995); ‘The Sculpture of Melvin Edwards’, UNESCO, Paris, France (1984); ‘Melvin Edwards’, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, USA (1979); ‘Melvin Edwards’, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA (1970); ‘Melvin Edwards’, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA (1968) and ‘Melvin Edwards’, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, USA (1965).
Edwards’ works are featured in many prominent collections internationally including Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, USA; Museum of Fine Arts, Texas, USA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., USA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, USA and Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, USA.

Stephen Friedman Gallery

The gallery’s presentation demonstrates a passionate, long-term interest in art from South America and the African diaspora. On display is a diverse selection of works by Juan Araujo, Tonico Lemos Auad, Melvin Edwards, Manuel Espinosa, Kendell Geers, Federico Herrero, Rivane Neuenschwander, Mira Schendel and Luiz Zerbini.

‘África’ (2020) a dynamic painting by renowned Brazilian artist Luiz Zerbini, draws on visual references from the artist’s surroundings in Rio de Janeiro as well as art history and pop culture. Zerbini’s solo exhibition ‘Fire’ is currently on display at Stephen Friedman Gallery until 1 April 2021. Another artist from Brazil, Rivane Neuenschwander, is known for work that explores language, nature, geography, the passing of time and social interactions. Neuenschwander is represented by ‘Notícia de jornal (prisão) / Tabloid Story (Prison)’ (2017) from an on-going series inspired by traditional Latin American Ex-voto paintings that she began in 2010.

Other highlights include a rare work from the 1960s by Argentine artist Manuel Espinosa; ‘Untitled’ which consists of rows of oval forms superimposed with circles depicted in shades of purple, ochre and blue. In the 1960s and 1970s, Espinosa created series of paintings and drawings by arranging squares and circles in repeating patterns. These variations investigated subtle effects of space, colour and optical sensations of depth and movement. Pioneer of contemporary African American art, Melvin Edwards is represented by ‘Untitled’ (1974). This work on paper relates to a body of works utilising barbed wire conceived by the artist for his solo exhibition at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York in 1970 – the museum's first show by an African- American sculptor. Rendered in ink and watercolour on paper, these works capture silhouettes of barbed wire and provide an intriguing counterpoint to the sculptural practice for which the artist is most well-known.

Venezuelan artist Juan Araujo explores Latin American architecture, art history and modernism in hyper-realistic paintings based on images sourced from archival materials. ‘Two greens between red and yellow’ (2020) a new oil on canvas, takes its inspiration from Josef Albers’ signature series ‘Homage to the Square’. Throughout the series Albers’ repetitive compositions explore various visual effects, investigating the interaction between colour, contrast and intensity. By emulating the work of Albers in this work, Araujo builds upon the relationship between colour and modernism that exist as encompassing themes within his practice.