by Judy Malloy: From Arts Wire Current, September 25, 2001

MICHAEL RICHARDS: August 2, 1963 -- September 11, 2001

The work of artist Michael Richards, who was killed in the September 11, 2001 attack, is an enduring symbol of the importance of protecting the freedom of expression of artists whose work uncompromisingly expresses justice and injustice in troubled times. A Jamaican-American, Michael Richards was born in New York but grew up in Kingston. After receiving his BA from Queens College in 1985 and his MA from New York University in 1991, Richards completed the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in 1993 and went on to the Artists-in-the-Marketplace Program at The Bronx Museum of the Arts the following year. He was an Artist-in-Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem, at Socrates Sculpture Park, and at Franconia Sculpture Park. His work has been exhibited internationally.

Richards, a sculptor who was an artist in residence in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's World Views -- a program which gave artists windowed studio space in Tower One of the World Trade Center -- was killed while working in his studio on the 92nd floor.

In SWING LO', included in his 1996 installation ...TO CARRY ME HOME at The Studio Museum of Harlem, a wheel is affixed to a massive, ominous shape. Blue-tinged light emanates from a narrow space underneath as if, from the vantage point of one whose life is spent in chains, the chariot in the spiritual "Swing low sweet chariot" represents a dim hope of escape from a life crushed in servitude.

In TAR BABY VS. ST. SEBASTIAN, he reacted to the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, the heroic World War II Air Force pilots at whose alma mater black men were used for live experiments on syphilis. The sculpture, which echoes Renaissance depictions of Saint Sebastian pierced with arrows, consists of the artist's cast body in the uniform of the Airmen -- brutally pierced with fighter planes.

In ARE YOU DOWN? an in-situ work at the Franconia Sculpture Park, in Shafer, Minnesota, Michael Richards created three lifesized black figures -- downed aviators sitting slumped with their backs to a large black-centered target which occupies the center of the work. In the mixed media installation GREAT BLACK AIRMEN (TUSKEGEE), like hunting trophies, the Airmens' helmets are mounted on a thicket of poles.

The terrorists murdered over 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. Honoring the body of work of one fallen artist among many victims does not single out one individual but rather seeks to preserve an important legacy which might otherwise be lost. Michael Richard's work -- laden with flight-imagery and with the vestiges of human oppression -- is remarkably potent in relationship to the flight-induced devastation of The World Trade Center. If this very applicability to the tragedy inhibits its exhibition, then the terrorists have not only altered the beautiful New York City skyline but have also succeeded in extinguishing a universal voice.

Sources/resources:

REMEMBERING MICHAEL RICHARDS (1963-2001) -- http://www.studiomuseuminharlem.org/richards.html

MICHAEL RICHARDS - 1963 - 2001 -- http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Month/month.htm

Christine Y. Kim, Assistant Curator The Studio Museum in Harlam and Franklin Sirmans, Independent curator and critic
MICHAEL RICHARDS -- http://www.movinginplace.net/places/9.11/mr.html

C. Carr
"An Artist Dead, a Downtown Arts Organization in Ruins Lost Horizons"
THE VILLAGE VOICE -- http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0138/carr.php
September 19 - 25, 2001

Glenn Gordon
"For the Artist Michael Richards"
FRANCONIA SCULPTURE PARK -- http://www.franconia.org/ggordon.html

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Judy Malloy was the Editor of Arts Wire Current from 1996 - 2002. In November 2002, Arts Wire Current became NYFA Current. Malloy continued as Editor of NYFA Current until the Spring of 2004, when The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) took it completely in house. The new NYFA Current is available at http://www.nyfa.org/current