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Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles

February 12, 2014 - April 27, 2014

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Barbara Chase-Riboud: Malcolm X #3, 1969; polished bronze, cotton, and rayon; 118 x 47 1/4 x 9 7/8 in.; Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with funds contributed by Regina and Ragan A. Henry, and with funds raised in honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Museum and in celebration of African American art, 2001-92-1.

For nearly fifty years, Barbara Chase-Riboud has created elegant and powerful sculptures and drawings in which materials, forms, and cultural references unite in a continuous interplay of bold physicality and metaphoric associations. While her first acclaim came as an artist, Chase-Riboud is also an award-winning poet and writer, best known for her 1979 historical novel, Sally Hemings.

Chase-Riboud was born in Philadelphia and trained in art and architecture at Tyler School of Art at Temple University, the American Academy in Rome, and Yale University. After receiving her M.F.A. from Yale, she moved to Paris, where she quickly garnered attention for her abstract, surrealist figural sculptures and drawings. In 1969 Chase-Riboud began her groundbreaking series of Malcolm X sculptures, in which she combines undulating cast bronze forms with knotted and braided fiber elements. The imposing sculptures, named in memory of the assassinated civil rights leader, set material and thematic opposites into dynamic interaction— bronze and silk; fixed and flowing; hard and soft; brash and hushed; monumental and intimate.

Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles features six major sculptures, including Confessions for Myself (1972) from the BAM/PFA collection; Peter Selz commissioned the work in conjunction with a 1973 solo exhibition that introduced Chase-Riboud’s work on the West Coast. The current exhibition also includes lyrical drawings from the 1960s that trace the development of the sculptures, as well as the Monument Drawings from 1996 and 1997. These recent drawings, which incorporate text and calligraphic gesture, invoke historical, cultural, and geographical associations, from Queen Sheba’s Monument at Addis Ababa to Man Ray’s The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse.


Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and coordinated at BAM/PFA by Lucinda Barnes, chief curator and director of programs and collections. The exhibition is generously supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The Berkeley presentation is made possible in part by Charles and Naomie Kremer.