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Melvin Edwards. Zhakanaka. 1989. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, Eliza S. Paine Fund. 1999.76 © Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Melvin Edwards. Zhakanaka. 1989. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA, Eliza S. Paine Fund. 1999.76 © Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Africa is with me every day. It’s part of my universe, along with everything else that’s part of my universe. The problem with most discussions of modernism is that they aren’t personal enough.    Melvin Edwards, 2019

 BALTIMORE, MD (August 15, 2019)—The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) today announced the presentation of Melvin Edwards: Crossroads, an exhibition that explores the cross-cultural connections in the artist’s work from 1977 to the present. On view September 29, 2019 through January 12, 2020, this exhibition of 23 sculptures and installations focuses on the ways in which Edward’s dynamic welded steel works have been equally influenced by his singular vision of abstraction and by his personal experiences—from growing up during the civil rights era in the U.S. to engaging with a variety of African cultures.

“Mel Edwards is a master of modern sculpture whose cosmopolitan vision of art and life reflects his engagement with the history of race, labor, and violence, as well as with themes of African Diaspora,” said Christopher Bedford, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “Edwards shows us a universe in which African and modern belong to a shared history of materiality and culture.”

Edwards (American, b. 1937) was profoundly energized by his experience at a major arts festival in Lagos in 1977, and since then, his work has increasingly connected to African art, languages, poetry, liberation politics, and philosophy. He has made reciprocal ties to many African countries, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Senegal, where he has maintained a home for nearly 20 years. The exhibition features 18 of the artist’s Lynch Fragments, a group of sculptures comprised of raw metal; familiar objects such as knives, hooks, and machine parts; and tools from Africa and the United States. While the artist began the Lynch Fragments series in 1963, many of the titles from the 1980s to the present come from African dialects and carry the connotation of return, recapitulation, and exchange. These works are accompanied by two large-scale sculptures, including the room-size installation, Agricole (2016) to tell the story of Edwards’ travels, the people he engaged, and the larger social history of the period.

Melvin Edwards: Crossroads is organized by The Baltimore Museum of Art and co-curated by Katy Siegel, BMA Senior Programming and Research Curator and Thaw Endowed Chair in Modern American Art at Stony Brook University, and Christopher Bedford, BMA Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. A brochure produced in conjunction with the exhibition features an interview with the artist by noted scholar Tobias Wofford, Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, Virginia Commonwealth University.

In 2020, Melvin Edwards: Crossroads will be presented at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA, and Fisher Museum of Art at the University of Southern California.

This exhibition is generously sponsored by the Smart Family Foundation of Illinois and the Henry Moore Foundation.

Melvin Edwards

Melvin Edwards (b.1937) is a pioneering African American artist who divides his time between New York, Baltimore, and Senegal. Born in Houston, Texas, he began his artistic career at the University of Southern California, where he met and was mentored by Hungarian painter Francis de Erdely. In 1965 the Santa Barbara Museum of Art organized Edwards’ first solo exhibition, which launched his professional career. He moved to New York City in 1967, and his work was soon exhibited at the Studio Museum. In 1970, Edwards became the first African-American sculptor to have works presented in a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Other major solo exhibitions include Melvin Edwards Sculpture: A Thirty-Year Retrospective 1963–1993 at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, NY (1993); Melvin Edwards: Five Decades at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, TX (2015), Zimmerli Museum of Art, Rutgers University, NJ; Columbus Museum of Art, OH; Melvin Edwards: Festivals, Funerals, and New Life at Brown University in Providence, RI (2017); and Melvin Edwards: Lynch Fragments at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo in Brazil (2018). The artist’s work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (2017-2019); Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic 1945-1965, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2016); All the World’s Futures, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy (2015); Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, Brooklyn Museum, NY (2014); Blues for Smoke, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2012-2013);  and African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2012).

Edwards’ public art projects include Homage to My Father and the Spirit (1969) at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Holder of the Light (1985) at Lafayette Gardens, Jersey City, NJ; and Asafokra (1990) at the Utsukushi-Ga-Hara Open-Air Museum, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. His  work is also represented in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York; as well as at The Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Albright–Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Philadelphia, PA; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; among others. Edwards taught at Rutgers University from 1972 to 2002. In 2014, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston.

About the Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

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