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Bio Summary

Melvin Edwards in Oklahoma City, 2016. Photo: Brandon Seekins.

Melvin Edwards (b.1937) is a pioneer in the history of contemporary African American art and sculpture. Born in Houston, Texas, he began his artistic career at the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA, where he met and was mentored by the Hungarian painter Francis de Erdely. In 1965, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA organized his first solo exhibition, which launched his professional career. Edwards moved to New York City in 1967, shortly after his arrival, his work was exhibited at The Studio Museum in Harlem; in 1970, he became the first African American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Biography

Melvin Edwards (b.1937) is a pioneer in the history of contemporary African American art and sculpture. Born in Houston, Texas, he began his artistic career at the University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA, where he met and was mentored by the Hungarian painter Francis de Erdely. In 1965, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA organized his first solo exhibition, which launched his professional career. Edwards moved to New York City in 1967. Shortly after his arrival, his work was exhibited at The Studio Museum in Harlem and in 1970, he became the first African American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Edwards’ practice reflects his engagement with the history of race, labor, and violence, as well as with themes of the African Diaspora. Making welding his preferred medium, his sculptures are studies in abstraction and minimalism. Ranging from colorful painted sculptures that expand on the modernist vocabulary of artists like Alexander Calder to barbed wire installations to tangled amalgamations of agricultural and industrial elements, his work is distinguished by its formal simplicity and powerful materiality.

Edwards remains best known for his series of Lynch Fragments, welded combinations of disparate objects that invite competing narratives of oppression and creation. This body of work spans three periods: the early 1960s, when the artist 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. Since his initial trip, he has returned to Africa many times, teaching welding in different countries before ultimately establishing a studio in Dakar, Senegal in 2000.

In addition, Edwards 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. Edwards’ large-scale sculptures extend his extraordinary range of aesthetic expression, reaffirming his commitment to abstraction.

Melvin Edwards’ work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally. In 1993, the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, NY organized Melvin Edwards Sculpture: A Thirty-Year Retrospective 1963–1993. In 2015, the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, TX presented a second retrospective, Melvin Edwards: Five Decades. This exhibition traveled to the Zimmerli Museum of Art, Rutgers University, NJ and to the Columbus Museum of Art, OH. Other recent solo exhibitions include Melvin Edwards: Festivals, Funerals, and New Life, Brown University, Providence, RI (2017); Melvin Edwards: Lynch Fragments, Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), Brazil (2018); and Melvin Edwards: Crossroads, Baltimore Museum of Art, MD (2019), traveled to Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA (2020) and University of Southern California (USC) Fisher Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA (2020). Edwards’ work has also been featured in innumerable group exhibitions, including Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom (2017), traveled to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK (2018), Brooklyn Museum, NY (2018), The Broad, Los Angeles, CA (2019), de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA (2019), and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (2020); 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, The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA (2012), traveled to Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY (2013); Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960–1980, MoMA PS1, Queens, NY (2012); and African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2011), traveled to Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC (2012). Edwards’ work is represented in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Houston, TX; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, NY; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), CA; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, 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, MA.

Public Collections

Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Winter Park, FL
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Baltimore Museum of Art, MD
Bethune Towers, New York, NY
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, AL
Bronx Museum of Art, Bronx, NY
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, CA
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, PA
Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, FL
Center Gallery, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA
Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, NY
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX
David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, Providence, RI
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
The Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
James E. Lewis Museum of Art, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Building, Jamaica, NY
Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn, NY
Lafayette College, Easton, PA
Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Miami University, Miami, FL
Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ
Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, MI
Mount Vernon Plaza, Columbus, OH
Museo de Artes Visualez Alejandro Otero, Caracas, Venezuela
Museum de Domijnen, Netherlands
Museu Afro-Brasil, São Paulo, Brazil
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
National Academy Museum, New York, NY
New York City Parks, NY
Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, The State University of New York, Purchase, NY
The New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Peat, Marwick, and Mitchell, Montvale, NJ
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
Rose Art Museum, Braindeis University, Waltham, MA
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC
The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY
Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom
University of Maryland, College Park, MD
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, VA
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, NC
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA