IN MEMORIAM: Richard Hunt, Chicago Sculptor

“Abstract sculptor Richard Hunt, a lifelong Chicagoan who in 1971 became the first African American artist to receive a solo retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, died Saturday at age 88.

“‘Richard Hunt was a preeminent American sculptor and public artist with a remarkable career spanning 70 years,’ said Charles Loving, author of a 2012 book on the artist. ‘His evocative works are immediately recognizable for melding the gritty muscularity of America’s industrial-urban environment with a passion for natural forms and biology.’

“The Chicago sculptor, who worked in Lincoln Park since 1971 in a cavernous, former electrical substation built in 1909, is best known for his large-scale public works. He placed more than 160 such commissions across the United States, including the 30-foot-wide hanging bronze, ‘Swing Low,’ at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and was responsible for 35 pieces in the Chicago area.

“In a statement Saturday, President Barack Obama said Hunt’s sculpture, ‘Book Bird,’ will sit outside a new branch of the Chicago Public Library at the Obama Presidential Center and ‘be an inspiration for visitors from around the world, and an enduring reminder of a remarkable man.’

“Born on Chicago’s South Side in 1935, Hunt showed artistic promise early on, taking lessons at the South Side Community Art Center and the Junior School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He went on to enroll at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

“While he was still a student, the Museum of Modern Art acquired one of his works, immediately marking him as an artist to watch. When he was just 35, that same museum honored him with a mid-career retrospective, drawing an appreciative review from the New York Times.

“Hunt was strongly influenced by the famed 50-foot-tall Picasso sculpture that was installed in 1967 in Daley Plaza. In 2016, the Sun-Times asked several Chicago artists and curators to name their favorite public artwork in the Windy City, and Hunt chose that piece.

“‘Beyond the ways and means of developing and producing the Chicago Picasso was the insight that something that began as a piece of work personal to an artist could become a grand enhancement of a civic space, a three-dimensional expression of the city’s cultural ambition,’ Hunt wrote.

“A descendant of slaves brought to the United States via the port of Savannah, Ga., Hunt attended the funeral of Emmett Till, who grew up just a few blocks from him. A lifelong advocate for equity and inclusion, Hunt recently completed a model for a monument to Till that is to be installed at the childhood home of the civil rights icon.

“Hunt received 18 honorary degrees and more than 30 major awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center, Fifth Star Award from the City of Chicago and Legends and Legacy Award from the Art Institute.” (MacMillan, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/16/23)

Read the full obituary at the Chicago Sun-Times

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