William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision

Thursday, July 20, 2023 - 9:00am - Sunday, September 10, 2023 - 5:00pm
2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
Philadelphia, PA 19130
United States

In the early 20th century, sculptor William Edmondson (c. 1874–1951) was recognized as one of the most important Black American artists of his time. Since then, in-depth attention to his artwork and practice has been sporadic, with few museums devoting shows to his sculpture. Bringing together more than 60 works by the artist, the Barnes exhibition William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision, on view in the Roberts Gallery, is the first major East Coast exhibition dedicated to the self-taught artist in decades. Edmondson made carving his vocation around 1932, having previously worked as a hospital orderly in Nashville, Tennessee. Inspired by a divine calling, he developed a career making headstones for the city’s Black cemeteries and soon expanded his repertoire to include freestanding figurative sculptures depicting nurses, teachers, angels, and preachers. Following a solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1937—the institution’s first show dedicated to a Black artist—he increasingly found buyers beyond his immediate community, attracting the attention of East Coast intellectuals and collectors. Though Edmondson found fame beyond Nashville, media coverage of the artist played into stereotypes about the Southern Black experience, with many journalists framing his sculptures as the work of a “modern primitive.” Such readings may have been encouraged by images of the artist at work by prominent white photographers including Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Featuring carved angels, tombstones, and other important works from museums and private collections across the US, William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision sheds new light on Edmondson’s practice and artistry and explores the artist and his work within the context of African American social history. William Edmondson: A Monumental Vision also examines the complex relationship between Black cultural production and the American museum. To elaborate on this theme, acclaimed visual and movement artist Brendan Fernandes has created a new work, Returning to Before, in response to Edmondson’s sculptures.

Event Type: 
Arts & Culture