Sept. 21, 2021
Abigail DeVille’s “Light of Freedom” Makes National Mall Debut in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, Oct. 15–April 17, 2022
Sculpture Was Created in Response to the Black Lives Matter Movement; Site-Specific Performance Will Mark the Opening at Dawn, Oct 15.
This fall, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will present artist Abigail DeVille’s critically acclaimed sculpture, “Light of Freedom.” DeVille is widely recognized for works that mine the overlooked, often traumatic histories of Black America to spotlight cultural contradictions and inequities. “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. DeVille’s installation will be on view in the Hirshhorn’s outdoor Sculpture Garden on the National Mall, Oct. 15–April 17, 2022.
DeVille draws inspiration from an 1876 photograph that captured the disembodied hand of Fédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s “Statue of Liberty” in New York’s Madison Square Park. The fragment was displayed between 1876–1882 to excite crowds and inspire donations for its pedestal. Her artwork, “Light of Freedom” stands 13 feet tall. 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 only for some and questions the distance between American ideas and actions.
“It’s a commemoration of the Black Lives Matter protests and movement and the Black lives here on this continent for 400 years,” DeVille said.
By positioning the torch’s flame to face the U.S. 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.
“Abigail DeVille’s ‘Light of Freedom’ is one of the most affecting works of art produced in response to 2020’s transformative social movement in the pandemic,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “Inviting audiences to engage with the artist’s work and participate in her activations, on-site and virtually, highlights our shared American narrative. As we move forward with the revitalization of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, the installation of DeVille’s work broadcasts the garden’s importance as a unique national space where the public encounters the distinctive points of view of leading global artists.”
“Light of Freedom” will be installed in the museum’s Sculpture Garden, located on the National Mall, and complemented by site-specific performances and public programming. The artwork’s arrival on the National Mall will be marked at sunrise Oct. 15 with the debut performance of DeVille’s “WAKE UP: Liberation Call at Dawn” (2021). On Nov. 10, DeVille will join Hirshhorn Associate Curator Anne Reeve to discuss the roles public art and performance can play in bringing to light untold and overlooked stories of our past. Organized and commissioned in 2020 by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, “Light of Freedom” has been on view in Madison Square Park in New York and at The Momentary in Bentonville, Arkansas.
About the Artist
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 nominated for The Future Generation Art Price in 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.
About the Hirshhorn
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all. The Hirshhorn Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.. The outdoor sculpture garden is open daily 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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, wood planks. 156 x 96 x 96 inches. Courtesy the artist. © 2020 Abigail DeVille. Photograph by Andy Romer/Commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy.