PAF Talks: Melvin Edwards

Thursday, September 30, 2021, 6:30 - 8pm

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Melvin Edwards install shot

Melvin Edwards, Song of the Broken Chains, 2020. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London© 2021. Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Presented by Public Art Fund at City Hall Park, New York City, May 4 to November 28, 2021. Photo: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund, NY

For more than 50 years, Melvin Edwards has created public art for communities all around the world. His work reimagines monumental civic sculpture by uniting abstract forms with personal symbols to address issues of race, labor, and the African Diaspora. 

Edwards’ conversation with Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer on September 30 accompanies Brighter Daysthe artist’s exhibition of public sculptures on view at City Hall Park through November 28, 2021. The show is a focused look at Edwards’ career through five sculptures from 1970 to 1996, and a sixth large-scale work commissioned in 2020. Each of the artworks incorporates the motif of the chain, a form found throughout the artist’s work over many decades. Chains take on numerous meanings for Edwards. They have functional use as “welded rope” to pull or hoist, but their interconnected links also convey metaphorical significance. They can represent bonds that constrain or unite us, while broken fragments might suggest liberation or loss. Tracing the long arc of Edwards’ career, this exhibition encourages us to remain mindful of the past as we cherish the social linkages that are more important than ever.

This free talk will be held in person, adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. It will simultaneously be livestreamed on YouTube. Registration is required to join in person or virtually. In person attendees must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask while indoors.

To attend in person or livestream on YouTube, register for free.

Public Art Fund Talks are presented in partnership with The Cooper Union


About the Artist:

Melvin Edwards (b. 1937, Houston, TX) 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, where shortly after his arrival, his work was exhibited at the then newly-opened Studio Museum. In 1970 he became the first African American sculptor to have works presented in a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

Edwards is best known for his sculptural series Lynch Fragments, which spans three periods: the early 1960s, when he responded to racial violence in the United States; the early 1970s, when his activism concerning the Vietnam War motivated him to return to the series; and from 1978 to the present, as he continues to explore a variety of themes, including his personal connection to Africa. Edwards first traveled to the continent in the 1970s with his late wife, the poet Jayne Cortez, and has returned to Africa many times, teaching welding in different countries before ultimately establishing a studio in Dakar, Senegal in 2000.

Edwards has produced more than 20 public works and has a longstanding commitment to public art. Since the 1960s, he has created sculptures for universities, public housing projects, and museums. His commissions include Homage to My Father and the Spirit (1969) at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Holder of the Light (1985) at Lafayette Gardens, Jersey City, NJ; and Asafo Kra No (1993) at the Utsukushi-Ga-Hara Open-Air Museum, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Four of his public works are permanently installed in New York City including Tomorrow’s Wind, a 1991 work commissioned by Public Art Fund for Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park and now on view at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem. Edwards’s large-scale sculptures extend his extraordinary range of aesthetic expression, reaffirming his commitment to abstraction. Melvin Edwards’s work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally.

About the Talks:

Public Art Fund Talks, organized in collaboration with The Cooper Union, connect compelling contemporary artists to a broad public by establishing a dialogue about artistic practices and public art. The Talks series feature internationally renowned artists who offer insights into artmaking and its personal, social, and cultural contexts. The core values of creative expression and democratic access to culture and learning shared by both Public Art Fund and The Cooper Union are embodied in this ongoing collaboration. In the spirit of accessibility to the broadest and most diverse public, the Talks are offered free of charge.

Located in the Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, at 41 Cooper Square (on Third Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets)

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.