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 Michael Richards  (1963 - 2001)

About: Michael Richards


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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: sculptor-aviation figure

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Jamaica, Michael Richards became a sculptor of figurative subjects. As part of a Manhattan cultural council "World Views" program in 2001, he had window studio space on the 92nd floor in the World Trade Center and was killed there on September 11, 2001 when jet airliners crashed into the buildings. Ironically airplanes were a theme in much of his work and often included figures of Tuskegee Airmen, a troop of black World War II pilots. Richards, who was black, was inspired by the Tuskegee men's legendary aviation skills because they won more than 150 Flying Crosses for Valor.

In one of his better-known pieces, "Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian," a dozen small fighter planes pierce the body of an airman whom Richards had modeled on himself.

Franconia Sculpture Park in Minneapolis has a piece by Richards titled "Are You Down?"

Source: "Star Tribune" of Minneapolis, 10/16/2001
The following is from the website of the Studio Museum in Harlem: On September 21, 2001, a memorial service was held there for Richards who from 1995 to 1996 was an artist-in-residence in the Studio Museum.

About the work of Michael Richards
Excerpt from the catalogue, Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition SMH 2000

Using the iconology of flight in sometimes playful, sarcastic, poetic and absurd ways, Michael Richards documents as well as jabs at contradictions in American social history. Over the years his art has focused consistently on the concept of motion, and in Passages he explores flight in particular. Richard's sculpture is truly inventive.

During the early 1990s his conceptual sculpture and installations featured components such as built-in motors, video, and audio, together with wings, human, animal and aeronautical. His art rotated and/or fluttered in the spaces they occupied, allowing viewers to experience the aura of movement - which was usually frustrated by some earthbound force that kept them from flying aloft. The three works in Passages are related by these considerations but take on more literal, figural forms and narrative tones.

Tar Baby Vs. St. Sebastian, for example, recalls a little-known part of American history, and African American history in particular.It is a graceful and statuesque tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, a team of World War II air force pilots who served bravely though the armed forces were racially segregated at that time. They never lost a life and were among the most trusted war escorts in history. This large gilded sculpture is classical in stature; its regal physique glows with dignity and peace though its body, like the martyr St. Sebastian is pierced throughout its torso; in this case, by small replicas of World War II airplanes. Michael served as the model in casting this figure and his presence is often visible in recent works.

From the Tuskegee Airmen to re configured back-scratchers, Richards cut through the smoke and mirrors of popular and conventional culture. His works all speak to aspects of African American life and American history while amplifying the ironies and dichotomies that riddle our larger cultural history. Travel Kit is both amusing and startling. A ubiquitous mirror and brush set is recast as spiteful tools, which hold bunches of human hair. For some, it may be a reminder of the "good hair/bad Hair" issues common among people of color. With Richards's Travel Kit you take it with you, and you cannot escape certain truths no matter which head of hair you're born with, or which process you employ to change it.

Essay by Deirdre Scott
Michael Richards (1963 - 2001)
born, Kingston, Jamaica

1992 - 1993 The Whitney Museum of American Art, Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York
1991M.A., New York University
1985B.A., City University of New York, Queens College

Selected Solo Exhibitions
1995 Installation, Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, Brooklyn, New York
1991 Master's Thesis Show, 80 Washington Square East Art Gallery, New York

Selected Group Exhibitions
2000 Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Deirdre A. Scott, curator
1998 Postcards from Black America, De Beyerd Center for Contemporary Art, Breda, the Netherlands,traveled internationally
1997 Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, New York
Michael Richards & Kathleen Lewis: Recent Work, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, New York
1996 No Doubt, Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut
...To Carry Me Home, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
Benefit Auction Exhibition, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, New York
1995 Three Installations: Michael Richards, Nurit Newman, Dread Scott, The Shirley Fiterman Gallery at Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York
The Sum and the Parts, 450 Gallery, New York Page 12, 450 Gallery, New York
1994 Head To Toe, Longwood Arts Center, Bronx, New York
Identity is Dead?, MMC Gallery at Marymount College, New York
Social History: A Black and Tan Fantasy, Bronx River Arts Center, Bronx, New York
Young, Gifted and Phat, Long Island University, Brooklyn, New York
Artists in the Marketplace, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, New York
Phrenology: A Magic Lantern Show, A collaborative Video Opera and performance,Millennium Film Archives, New York, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York
1993 Current Wave, Bronx River Art Center, Bronx, New York
Concrete Signal,Tribeca 148 Gallery, New York
Whitney Open Studios, Whitney Museum of American Art ISP Studios, New York
1992 Ecstasy Shop, Dooley LeCappellaine Gallery, New York
Choice Histories, Artists Space, New York
Same Old Song and Dance, Grey Art Gallery, New York
1991 Race and Culture, 494 Gallery, New York
Race and Culture, City College Gallery, New York
1990 New York Area M.F.A. Exhibition, The College Art Association, Voorhies Gallery, Hunter College

Selected Grants, Awards and Fellowships
1999-97Artist in Residence, NFAA Fellow CAVA Award, Miami, Florida
1997Artist in Residence, Socrates Sculpture Park
1995-94Marie Sharp Walsh Foundation
1994The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, New York
1992Whitney Museum of American Art,Van Lear Award

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