New Public Artwork in Charlotte Connects the First Two African-American Artists to Solo Exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art

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‘Spiral Odyssey,’ a 30-foot, stainless steel sculpture by Chicago-based artist Richard Hunt, is a tribute to Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sept. 12, 2017) – “Spiral Odyssey,” a nearly 30-foot, stainless steel sculpture installed in May in uptown Charlotte’s Romare Bearden Park, links two of the most influential African-American artists of the 20th century.

The artwork, created by Chicago-based artist Richard Hunt, is a tribute to park namesake and Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden. Hunt and Bearden share the distinction of being the first two African-American artists to have one-person exhibitions at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1971.

The sculpture will be celebrated at a public dedication Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017 at Bearden Park. The careers of Hunt and Bearden will be celebrated the previous evening at a private event at Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts in Charlotte, where Hunt will participate in a conversation with Romare Bearden scholars Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of Spelman College, and Dr. Robert G. O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston professor of comparative literature at Columbia University.

Though there was a considerable difference in age between them – Bearden was 24 years Hunt’s senior – the artists remained friends and colleagues until Bearden’s death in 1988.

“Spiral Odyssey” takes its form and meaning from Bearden’s life and career.

“The ‘Odyssey’ in the title refers to Romare Bearden’s series of works that took Homer’s epic poem as a point of inspiration and departure,” Hunt said in his artist statement. “‘Odyssey’ is also a way to refer to Bearden’s personal journey alone and with others, his peers, his artistic offspring and his world of admirers.

“‘Spiral’ in my title has multiple associations. One was (Bearden’s) pivotal role in the joining together of African-American artists in 1963 in New York to share ideas on arts activism in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, the complexities of career development and the art of politics. Also considered in the work is the widening, elevating spiral of Bearden’s multifaceted career which even in its legacy phase continues to ascend.”

The sculpture said Carla Hanzal, vice-president of public art for the Arts & Science Council (ASC) and author of “Romare Bearden: Southern Recollections.”

“Not only is ‘Spiral Odyssey’ aesthetically remarkable, but it is meaningful to have an artist of Richard Hunt’s stature create a sculpture specifically for Charlotte,” Hanzal said. “Richard had the city and Romare Bearden in mind when he created it, which makes it special. His sculpture felt at home the moment it was installed and residents and visitors have responded to that. I believe it will quickly become one of the most beloved public artworks in Charlotte.”

Funding for the artwork, which totaled $305,000, came from the Mecklenburg County ordinance appropriating 1 percent of eligible capital improvement project funds for public art, contributions from Duke Energy and ASC, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and North Carolina Arts Council.

About Romare Bearden (1911-1988)

Charlotte-born artist Romare Bearden is recognized as one of the most creative and original visual artists of the 20th century. His success as an artist was recognized with his first solo exhibition in Harlem in 1940 and his first solo show in Washington, D.C., in 1944. In 1963, Bearden formed the artist collective Spiral Group with artists Charles Alston, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff in response to the Civil Rights movement.

Although he experimented with many different mediums and artistic styles, he is best known for his richly textured collages, two of which appeared on the covers of Fortune and Time magazines in 1968. Bearden’s studies of both non-Western art (African and classical Chinese) and European masters enabled him to draw on styles that he believed were timeless and historically durable. His depictions of Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and Harlem referenced historical, literary and musical sources. An innovative artist with diverse interests, Bearden also designed costumes and sets for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and programs, sets and designs for Nanette Bearden’s Contemporary Dance Theatre.

His work is included in many important public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and The Studio Museum in Harlem. In Charlotte, Bearden’s work can be found at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture and Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan presented Bearden with the National Medal of Arts. Bearden died in New York City on March 12, 1988, at the age of 76

About Richard Hunt (born 1935)

A Chicago-based artist, Hunt began his career in 1955 as a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. His first large scale public artwork came in 1967. Over nearly 50 years, Hunt has received more than 100 commissions across the United States and has been the recipient of Guggenheim, Ford and Tamarind fellowships.

He was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as one of the first artists to the governing board of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2009, Hunt received the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Hunt’s artwork is displayed in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Museum of African-American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. and the National Museum of Israel in Jerusalem. In Charlotte, Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts is home to one of his sculptural works, as is The Park Church.

About ASC

ASC is the chief advocate, resource hub and steward for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region’s cultural community. Its core functions include advocacy, cultural education programs, cultural planning, fundraising, grant making, public art and workshops and trainings for the cultural community. ASC works to ensure Culture For All by combining resources from local and state government with those of the private sector to maximize community impact throughout the cultural sector.

ASC’s mission is to ensure access to an excellent, relevant, and sustainable cultural community for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region.

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