The Pulitzer Arts Foundation presents “Barbara Chase-Riboud Monumentale: The Bronzes,” a major monographic presentation examining the artistic vision of the Paris-based artist, novelist, and poet, Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. Philadelphia, 1939). “Barbara Chase-Riboud Monumentale: The Bronzes” brings together some 40 major sculptures from the 1950s to the present day, accompanied by 20 drawings.
The exhibition illustrates how the artist has developed a highly original visual language that is also fundamentally global and transhistorical, with influences ranging from Italian Baroque architecture to West African bronze making.
“She is one of the first female artists to produce work in bronze at the scale and complexity for which she is known, pushing the material to its very limits,” Pulitzer Executive Director Cara Starke said. “This exhibition will illuminate the many ways in which she has advanced her singular formal and conceptual vision.”
The Barbara Chase-Riboud bronzes exhibition will be on view from September 16, 2022, to February 5, 2023.
“From her most recent sculptures to her earliest experiments in bronze, Chase-Riboud’s work has significantly broadened the definition of sculpture and asked important questions about who and what deserves to be remembered and monumentalized,” exhibition organizer and Pulitzer Arts Foundation Curator Stephanie Weissberg said. “She has put forth a remarkable body of sculpture, drawings, fictional writing, and poetry that together redefine the very meaning of monumentality.”
“Monumentale” begins with an imposing work in the museum’s entrance courtyard: Standing Black Woman of Venice (2021). While the towering black bronze figure was created only last year, the mold from which it was cast is one that Chase-Riboud made more than fifty years ago. She completely reconceived its orientation for this new sculpture to achieve a monumentality and austerity that harken back to the standing figures of both ancient Egypt and Alberto Giacometti.
Moving on to the entrance gallery, the exhibition unfolds in loosely chronological order, beginning with Chase-Riboud’s earliest large-scale bronze, Adam and Eve (1958), which she created during a year-long fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. The seven-and-a-half-foot tall sculpture approaches abstraction in its depiction of the two Biblical figures huddled together under the sloping tree of knowledge.
Like a number of other sculptures the artist created during her early years, the attenuated forms and rough-hewn surfaces here recall the iconic standing figures of Giacometti.
The spacious main gallery features six monumental bronze abstractions drawn from the extensive “Malcolm X” series, where Chase-Riboud memorialized a historic figure—here the iconic civil-rights leader—for the first time.
With the “Malcolm X” series, Chase-Riboud began to synthesize a number of the signatures of her mature style. One of these hallmarks can be seen in the textile ‘skirt’ attached as a base to the bronze ‘body’ of Malcolm X #13 (2008). The ‘skirt’ would become a fixed form in Chase-Riboud’s bronzes, allowing her to address her longstanding interest in achieving balance and tension by harnessing opposing forces. Stationed nearby, five other major bronzes from the series (Malcolm X #9, #16, #17, #18, and #19) speak to the artist’s evolving methods and her desire to pay tribute to the global Pan-African movement that began in the 1960s.
Throughout her career Chase-Riboud has returned again and again to certain visual ideas. This experimentation is evident here in her altering of scale and, most particularly, surface, as the brilliantly polished aluminum of earlier works has now morphed into gold and black bronze.
Also in this gallery is the ambitious La Musica Red Parkway/Josephine (2007) which pays tribute to Josephine Baker, the American icon who was born and raised in St. Louis but became a French citizen and was buried at the Pantheon in Paris.
More than six feet in height, the red bronze figure with red silk ropes serves as a counterpoint to her Malcolm X series with an open form that terminates in coiled curls that resemble treble clefs or violin scrolls. With this work Chase-Riboud uses abstraction to visualize the physical embodiment of the acoustic while also celebrating the impact of Baker’s singular contributions to the twentieth-century musical landscape.
Moving to the first lower gallery, four major sculptural works refer obliquely to realities experienced by women. In Homage to Gustave Courbet (1967), Chase-Riboud makes reference to the 19th century painter’s infamous L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), of 1866, which depicted a naked torso and genitalia. Her work takes the form of a large black silk triangle framed by strips of brightly polished, crinkly bronze. The use of the triangle at this early date foreshadows her later interest in the form as symbolic of nature and creation in tantric philosophy.
Also in this gallery is Nursery #3 (2007), a wall piece that rises as solid black bronze, silk, and rope before evaporating into limned blank space.
“Monumentale” next moves to Chase-Riboud’s Cleopatra series, which occupied her for almost thirty years and culminated in seven major sculptures. Four are on view here in one of the Pulitzer’s lower galleries. Each references a personal effect belonging to the queen of Ptolemaic Egypt: cape, door, chair, and wedding contract.
Cleopatra’s Cape (1973), inspired by the jade burial suits of the Han Dynasty in China, is made of small plaques of bronze, hand-woven together. To achieve the iridescent quality she wanted, Chase-Riboud had to use a firing technique that produced many unpredictable results. She welcomed this element of chance and upped the ante by employing the Surrealist technique of automatism to create abstract designs that repeat across the cape’s surface.
The year after she completed Cleopatra’s Cape, Chase-Riboud published her first collection of poetry, “From Memphis to Peking” (1974). Six years later, she published her breakthrough historical fiction novel, “Sally Hemings” (1980), which caused a furor in the United States by asserting that there was a sexual relationship between Jefferson and the Sally Hemings, whom he enslaved.
The publication marked an important turning point in Chase-Riboud’s career as the scope of her professional creative output grew beyond the realm of the visual. From that point on, she would toggle between writing and sculpture, working exclusively in one medium at a time.
Another lower gallery brings together a group of sculptures and drawings that were created by Chase-Riboud at different times as the basis for various public art commissions.
The first large-scale memorial the artist conceived for the public realm was proposed to the Clinton Administration in the mid-1990s to “honor the 11 million victims and the 30 million deportees of the African diaspora.” On view here is the bronze scale model that Chase-Riboud cast in 1994 for Middle Passage Monument, which was never realized. The model depicts two heavy black posts connected by a central beam, bound with a length of chain.
Another highlight here is Africa Rising Bust Overcast #1 (1998). This small bronze was realized as a preliminary step in the creation of Africa Rising (1998), Chase Riboud’s massive bronze memorial to those interred in the African Burial Site in Lower Manhattan. The memorial stands today in the nearby Ted Weiss Federal Building and acknowledges “the transport of Africans to this land, their bondage and struggle for freedom.”
“Barbara Chase-Riboud Monumentale: The Bronzes” culminates with works from Chase-Riboud’s largest body of work, La Musica, which she began in 1990 and has continued to the present day. This series makes oblique references to the forms of musical instruments and the bodies that play them.
Two of the works in this gallery pay tribute to women of great historical significance and personal interest to the artist. Chase-Riboud’s gold bronze and silk sculpture La Musica Marian Anderson (2003) acknowledges the Philadelphia-native contralto Marian Anderson, who performed across the United States and Europe to great acclaim. Anne d’H (2008), a vertical gold bronze form bound with curling tendrils of wrapped gold silk, celebrates the late art historian and longtime director of the Philadelphia Art Museum, Anne d’Harnoncourt.
Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939, Philadelphia) is a renowned artist, an award-winning poet and a bestselling novelist. Her career can be said to have begun when she crossed the Atlantic to spend a year as a fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 1957. She later graduated from Yale’s School of Architecture (1960) and moved to Europe. There she pursued an independent track, gaining training in a variety of sculpture-making skills and showing in museums and galleries.
Her remarkable life has included decades of travel and life at the center of artistic, literary, and political circles that also included luminaries ranging from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Salvador Dalí, Alexander Calder, James Baldwin, and Mao Zedong to Toni Morrison, Pierre Cardin, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Josephine Baker.
Chase-Riboud is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Knighthood of the French Légion d’Honneur, the Grand Prix Artistique from the Simone and Cino Del Duca Foundation, the AWARE Prix d’Honneur, the Tannie Award in the Visual Arts in Paris, and the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award from the College Art Association. She is represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art, among other museums.
About the Pulitzer Arts Foundation
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation is an art museum dedicated to fostering meaningful experiences with art and architecture. Since its founding in 2001, the museum has presented art from around the world in its celebrated building by Tadao Ando and its surrounding neighborhood. Offering personal encounters with art, the Pulitzer brings art and people together to explore ideas and inspire new perspectives.
The Pulitzer campus is located in the Grand Center Arts District of St. Louis, Missouri, and includes the museum, the Park-Like garden, a tree grove, and the forthcoming Spring Church (opening July 2022).
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 10am–5pm, with evening hours until 8pm on Friday. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.pulitzerarts.org.