Melvin Edwards began showing his art professionally in 1965. Just five years later, he became the first African-American sculptor with solo work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the years since, Edwards’ work has been shown from Texas to Ohio, from Brazil to Italy. Now, thanks to The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, those of us here in New Orleans can observe the intricate work of this storied sculptor in a new exhibit: Melvin Edwards: Crossroads.
Steel Art Imitating Life
In 1977, Melvin Edwards found himself at a major Arts Festival in Lagos, Nigeria. Though not elaborated, it was possibly the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, or FESTAC 77. The experience grew the artist’s inspiration to create works that connect to African art, languages, poetry, liberation politics and philosophy.
Crossroads is a look onto the ways Melvin Edwards has mingled African and American cultures into his work. Edwards was born in Houston, but his artistic career burgeoned in SoCal, NYC, Baltimore, and Africa. The exhibit of welded steel works marries Melvin Edwards’ personal experience with his engagement to African customs. One heavy influence was Edwards’ coming of age during the Civil Rights Era. Additionally, the 22 sculptures focus on Edward’s prominent artistic vision of abstraction.
Eighteen of the sculptures featured in Crossroads have previously appeared in an ongoing series titled Lynch Fragments. Incredibly, Lynch Fragments is a project which Melvin Edwards has been working on since 1963. The 18-pieces are made from familiar raw metals such as knives and machine parts. A room-sized instillation called Agricole accompanies the machine and tool pieces of Lynch Fragments.
With these works, Edwards shares the subject of travel, recapitulation, and return. The pieces are a conversation on the weaving of a social fabric. Thematically, Crossroads brings the ties which Edwards’ built in Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Nigeria into connection with his experience in America.
Details for Melvin Edwards: Crossroads
Crossroads is on view now through July 5, 2020 at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The Ogden Museum is open daily from 10a – 5p with extended hours on Thursdays from 6 – 8p for Ogden After Hours. You can find ticket prices for entrance to the Ogden here.
Located in the heart of the Warehouse District, the Ogden has been welcoming viewers of art since 1999. The specific focus on artists and movements of the South has led to a collection of over 8,000 pieces. Along with being the largest depository of Southern art in the country, the Ogden also offers a diverse arts education program as well. Christopher Wayner, Deputy Director of Ogden Museum had this to say about Crossroads:
“As an artist raised in the South and informed by a multiplicity of influences and experiences, Melvin’s work resonates with the complex, difficult and dynamic beauty that informs our identity. To show this work here, and at this moment, realizes an opportunity to demonstrate the profound impact that abstract art manifests in its ability to engage and inspire us.”
Crossroads is presented by the Helis Foundation and co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art, a frequent exhibitor of Melvin Edwards’ work. Check out the exhibit now until July.