Searching for the Word, 1989/2019
Born in 1937 in Houston, Melvin Edwards moved to New York in 1967. In 1970, he became the first African American sculptor to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and in 1978 he had a retrospective at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Best known for his Lynch Fragments—small abstract sculptures variously formed from tools, chains, railroad spikes, and steel scraps—Edwards works in a wide range of media, from barbed-wire installations to large-scale painted steel sculptures. His powerful and moving sculptures engage with history and politics, exploring such themes as violence, injustice, struggle, and civil rights.
Searching for the Word is based on an earlier 1989 maquette Edwards created for New York's Governor’s Arts Awards and recalls his other public sculptures from the same period, such as Southern Sunrise (1983) and Breaking of the Chains (1995). Composed of stainless-steel shapes and curvilinear forms, these works ideally are viewed in the round, for as Edwards describes, “A person will be able to experience them the way they experience architecture—that is, they move through and around and have a different visual experience from every point of view of the piece.” For Edwards, public sculptures are also interventions that can transform public spaces and inspire action. As he wrote in his 1971 statement, “Notes on Black Art”: “We must make works that use our lives and feelings as their basis for existence. The work can either take the form of giving and using ideas, subjects and symbols for radical change, or the works can be of such large physical scale, and in the right places as to make real change.”
Edwards’s work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Studio Museum in Harlem; and Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. Edwards taught at Rutgers University from 1972 to 2002, and in 2014 he received an honorary doctorate from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. He is represented by Alexander Gray Associates, New York, and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.