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Metallic Beauty: Richard Hunt At The Chicago Cultural Center

By Carrie McGath in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 24, 2015 7:00PM

'Gathering scrap in a junk yard at Clybourn and Sheffield Avenues, Chicago, 1962,' photo courtesy of Richard Hunt

Walking through Exhibition Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center to see the Sixty Years of Sculpture: Richard Hunt show, visitors bear witness to the prolific breadth and staggering growth of this continually important artist. This is a deftly curated show, spotlighting Hunt's artistic evolution through his use of materials, his views on form and those forms’ expanse or their fragile smallness.

Linear Spatial Theme No. 2, 1962 by Richard Hunt, Welded tubular chromed steel, 38 x 64 x 46 inches, photo courtesy of The Chicago Cultural Center
His earlier work possesses a shyness even while it simultaneously wields a quiet power, and as the years go on the work becomes grandiose, thunderous declarations of form playing with space and shadow. Hunt's work always contains an urban feel and the very scraps of the city's landscape are his medium. However, his work is not just urban in a far-reaching, general sense. It is quite perfectly Chicago itself, with his industrious process and work ethic ingrained into each pattern, crevice and manipulated piece of chrome, steel and wood that comprise each sculpture.

The introversion in his early work comes through with a focus on smallness, thin pipes creating abstract creatures that quietly reach upward and outward. They are gentle and quiet pieces, many softened with the inclusion of cottonwood along with the metallic scraps Hunt found in pockets and junkyards throughout the city.

1957's Vector is a cottonwood and steel sculpture that is pulling itself in multiple directions, resembling the head of an animal or the seat of a bicycle. It looks to be dancing and growing, only to dissipate into the space above and around it while the base keeps it grounded, rendering it unable to fully free itself. This small piece illustrates the stark juxtaposition to his newer works that elicit strength, a hysterical kinesis and, simply, sheer mass.

Richard Hunt in his studio, photo by Thomas McCormick.
2014's Crosscurrents evokes freedom and fast-paced movement radiating from the stainless steel. Much of his later work has the feeling and look of emergence, where the forms reach, even explode, from the base of the sculptures and this is where the kinetic energy of his work comes from. Other pieces possess the lithe quality present in his earlier work and an example of this would be one of the highlights of the show, Years of Pilgrimage, from 1999. Stationed in the middle of the recent work in the exhibition space it looks like a contorted bicycle that immediately led me to thoughts of the abstractions Alberto Giacometti created. The Surrealists were very much interested in psychoanalysis and the psychology present in this piece is apparent. The Rorschach-esque form that also connotes a bike seat sits atop the winding and bending bars that hint, too, of a bike rack. Here is a clue to what I see in all of Hunt's work: a meditation on the mind and its associations. It is impossible not to free associate while one wanders through this retrospective.

On view through March 29, this is an absolute must-see exhibition showing so much sentient work from an artist so very entrenched (and rightly so) in Chicago's art scene and the overall canon of contemporary sculpture.