Gallery  April 8, 2024  Carlota Gamboa

Experience the Weightlessness of Richard Hunt's Early Works at White Cube

Photo © White Cube (On White Wall)

Richard Hunt, Linear Peregrination, 1962. Welded chromed steel. 132.1 x 167.6 x 261.6 cm| 52 x 66 x 103 in. © 2024. The Richard Hunt Trust / ARS, NY and DACS, London. 

In 1971, American sculptor Richard Hunt was the first African American artist to have a major retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art. He was 35 years old. 

Fifty-three years later, over two dozen of his seminal pieces have been reunited in Early Masterworks, an exhibition at White Cube New York (which runs through April 13), presenting the sculptures created between 1955 and 1969.

They are “drawings in space,” White Cube's Global Director of Strategic Market Initiatives Sukanya Rajaratnam told Art & Object about the sculptures. She took a creative leap, and wanted the elongated figures to be viewed as “lines against paper." The sculptures are displayed against a white expanse, held up by long white pedestals that join the wall.

"Most people want to see sculptures in 3D,” said Rajaratnam. "In this case, they are locked to the wall because it’s the best way for them to be read. It’s as if they’re levitating, alive, floating in space, as opposed to traditional sculpture, which is instead heavy and grounded. These pieces feel weightless and spirit-like.” 


Richard Hunt, Opposed Forms, 1965
© 2024 The Richard Hunt Trust / ARS, NY and DACS, London.

Richard Hunt, Opposed Forms, 1965. Welded chromed steel. 113 x 154.9 x 99.1 cm | 44 1/2 x 61 x 39 in.

Richard Hunt, Linear Spatial Theme, Number 1, 1962.
© 2024 The Richard Hunt Trust / ARS, NY and DACS, London. Photo © White Cube (On White Wall)

Richard Hunt, Linear Spatial Theme, Number 1, 1962. Welded chromed steel. 213.4 x 109.2 x 88.9 cm | 84 x 43 x 35 in. 

Richard Hunt, Organic Construction, Number 1, 1962.
© 2024 The Richard Hunt Trust / ARS, NY and DACS, London. Photo © White Cube (OnWhite Wall)

Richard Hunt, Organic Construction, Number 1, 1962. Welded chromed steel. 106.7 x 106.7 x 66 cm | 42 x 42 x 26 in. 

Born in Chicago in 1935, Hunt has been lauded as the foremost African American abstract sculptor of the second half of the 20th century. He taught himself how to solder wire and weld after seeing the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1953 exhibition, Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, while still in college. He would go on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1957. By the 1960s, he was using scrapped car parts from junkyards as the materials of his work, which explored the relationship between natural organic material and fabricated steel.

“I have this interest both in technologically derived methods of producing things, and… in biological sciences, and the natural world and how things take shape there,” Hunt said about his work in a 2015 podcast by the National Endowment for the Arts. “From cell division to various other kinds of growth and expansion. Part of my creative process involves linking the idea of construction, in a mechanical way, and organic growth.”

© Martha Mood © 2024 The Richard Hunt Trust / ARS, NY and DACS, London

Richard Hunt seated at Mill Race Studio, San Antonio, beside Longhorn (1959, dismantled 1960). 

Hunt is featured in over 100 public museums around the country and was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the governing board of the National Endowment for the Arts and was one of the first working artists to serve on the board.

Hunt died on December 16, 2023, due to a long-standing illness, and just two weeks after he joined White Cube. He was the first artist signed to the gallery by Rajaratnam who joined White Cube when the New York space opened in September 2023 and had expedited the show in the hopes that Hunt would be able to attend. “The opening was very emotional for the family and friends," said Rajaratnam. "It was celebrated like a memorial."

© 2024 The Richard Hunt Trust / ARS, NY and DACS, London

Richard Hunt standing with Opposed Linear Forms (1961), behind left, and Organic Construction, Number 3 (1961) far right, at B.C. Holland Gallery, Chicago, 1962. © Don Sparks. Graphics Mike Sparks. © 2024 The Richard Hunt Trust / ARS, NY and DACS, London

There is an intrinsic dualism present in Hunt's works. “The theme of much of my work can be characterized as a fusion or harmonization of the vital tensions existing between dualities, such as the organic and the geometric, the organic and the abstract, or the past and the present, the traditional and the contemporary," Hunt has said about his work.

Rajaratnam shared that these were aspects which initially drew her to Hunt’s work. "A narrative of pain is held within the tortured appearance of metal, twisted, knotted—we can see that in Head of Till, Hero’s Head, Years of Pilgrimage," she said. "The history is inherently quite painful, but I still find the pieces to be on a journey of reaching up. Trauma is in opposition to transcendence. This struggle in the figurative sense is metaphorically very vital to the work.” 

Richard Hunt: Early Masterworks is on view at White Cube New York through April 13, 2024.

About the Author

Carlota Gamboa

Carlota Gamboa is an art writer based in Los Angeles.

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