Abigail DeVille’s critically acclaimed sculpture Light of Freedom is a mixed-media installation through which the artist responds to the Black Lives Matter movement within the larger context of America’s long relationship to the idea of liberty itself. The Hirshhorn presentation of of the 13-foot-tall artwork situates it within the Museum’s outdoor Sculpture Garden on the National Mall. DeVille is widely recognized for works that mine the overlooked, often traumatic histories of Black America to spotlight cultural contradictions and inequities.
DeVille draws inspiration from an 1876 photograph that captures the disembodied hand of Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty in New York’s Madison Square Park. The fragment was displayed between 1876 and 1882 to excite crowds and inspire donations for its pedestal. A square of golden scaffolding frames DeVille’s torch, suggesting a construction site. The artist has exchanged Bartholdi’s solid handle for a latticed cage that wraps around a rusted metal bell that can be seen but not rung. Above it, a flame is composed of outstretched mannequin arms. These are painted deep blue to suggest the hottest part of a fire. In referencing America’s long-heralded emblem of freedom, DeVille recasts national monuments as sites that embody democracy for only some and questions the distance between American ideas and actions.
By positioning the torch’s flame to face the US Capitol building, DeVille’s work interrogates the popular mythology embedded in the National Mall, critiquing America’s promise of freedom and the tenuous nature of the ideals citizens are charged to uphold. The work celebrates “people that hooked each other arm-in-arm, and protested in the face of potentially death through this pandemic, to fight for whatever this nation actually pretends that it was founded or based on,” DeVille said.
Born in 1981 in New York, DeVille received her Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in 2011 and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the New York Fashion Institute of Technology in 2007. Recent exhibitions of her work include Brand New Heavies at Pioneer Works, New York, and The American Future at PICA, Portland. DeVille’s work has also been exhibited at The Whitney, Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New Museum in New York, the Punta Della Dogana in Venice, Italy, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. DeVille has designed sets for theatrical productions at venues such as the Stratford Festival, directed by Peter Sellers; Harlem Stage; La Mama; and Joe’s Pub, directed by Charlotte Braithwaite. She has received honors fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, Creative Capital grantee; received an OBIE for design; and has been nominated for The Future Generation Art Prize in the 55th Biennale di Venezia. DeVille was the Chuck Close/Henry W. and Marion T. Mitchell Rome Prize fellow at the American Academy in 2017–2018. She teaches at Maryland Institute College of Art and is a critic at the Yale School of Art.
The exhibition was organized by Madison Park Conservancy, New York. Leadership support for Light of Freedom is made possible by the Ford Foundation.
Major support is provided by Candy and Michael Barasch, Suzanne Deal Booth, Ed Bradley Family Foundation, Harold and Colene Brown Family Foundation, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family, Stardust Arts, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Additional support is provided by Eve Biddle, Ingrid Cincala-Gilbert, Shawna C. Gallancy, Stephanie Joyce and Jim Vos, Rebecca Kramer, Charles Moffett, Catherine E. Sippin, Sarah Stein-Sapir, and Anonymous.
Major support for Mad. Sq. Art is provided by Sasha C. Bass, Bunny & Charles Burson, Toby Devan Lewis, Ronald A. Pizzuti, Thornton Tomasetti, Tiffany & Co., Anonymous, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.
Substantial support is provided by Charina Endowment Fund, Eataly, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Jacques & Natasha Gelman Foundation, The Sol Lewitt Fund for Artist Work, Mad. Sq. Art Council, Audrey & Danny Meyer, The New York EDITION, the Rudin Family, and Sorgente Group of America.
Additional support is provided by 400 Park Avenue South, Irving Harris Foundation, Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, and Fern and Lenard Tessler.
Madison Square Park Conservancy is a public/private partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
Image: Abigail DeVille (American, b. 1981), Light of Freedom, 2020. Welded steel, cabling, reclaimed rusted metal school bell, blue-painted mannequin arms, gold-painted metal scaffolding, and wood planks. 156 x 96 x 96 in. Courtesy the artist. © 2020 Abigail DeVille. Photograph: Andy Romer/Commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy.