Richard Hunt: Art Commentary by Gregg Hertzlieb


Hunt art


Richard Hunt (b. 1935)

Nile Journey, 2008-10

Welded bronze, 37 x 33 x 20 inches

Gift of Josephine L. Ferguson '46

Brauer Museum of Art, 2014.06


Nile Journey is a remarkable new sculpture addition to the Brauer Museum of Art's permanent collection.  Created by the acclaimed American sculptor Richard Hunt (b. 1935) and purchased for the Brauer by donor Josephine L. Ferguson '46, this beautiful bronze graces the lobby of the Valparaiso University Center for the Arts, placed by the artist himself for maximum effect.  The sculpture is an elegant presence that embodies its title at the same time it occupies a more general abstract realm.

     Ferguson has enhanced the Brauer's collection enormously with full and partial gifts of sculptures by Richard Hunt.  For example, the exquisite outdoor stainless steel piece Valpo Variations, 2013, was largely a result of Ferguson's generosity, as were the two other major Hunt works in the Brauer's collection, Becoming (1989-2011, also stainless steel) and Pointer (1993, bronze).  Ferguson, a good friend of the artist, felt her imagination captured by Hunt's inventive and organic abstraction and too was interested in his roots in Chicago.  As a loyal alumnus, Ferguson hopes to inspire Valparaiso University students and community members by offering them the opportunity to experience these dramatic creations by a true master.

     When Ferguson first saw Nile Journey, she was captivated by its lovely composition and material qualities.  She discussed the piece frequently with Hunt, inquiring about its availability and its relationship to his life and interests.  Ferguson was familiar with Hunt's travels to Egypt and his collection of tribal objects from other African countries.  After carefully considering the work over several months, she finally decided that she simply had to acquire it for the Brauer Museum, seeing it as truly special in Hunt's body of work.

     While works of art typically unfold in their meanings through prolonged and repeated viewings, Nile Journey for most viewers seems to immediately suggest a ride along gently rolling waters.  The more massive supporting bottom form of the sculpture, perhaps representing a swell lifting a craft on which the Nile journey takes place, ascends upward to ultimately branch into horizontal branches or arms that undulate, giving the visual impression of stylized currents.  Here, an interesting dimension of the medium emerges, since bronze is a firm and unyielding medium but also has a liquid or malleable aspect; in this instance, the sculpture was contorted and assembled through heating of the bronze, not involving turning the bronze to a liquid state for the purpose of casting.  Multiple tiers of these undulating arms serve to calm and soothe the viewer, much the way prolonged observation of the surface of a body of water relaxes the mind.

     A key feature of Hunt's sculpture in general is the use of a nonobjective vocabulary to evoke states of being, while at the same time leaving interpretation open ended enough for viewers to project their own associations.  Hunt is an Abstract Expressionist sculptor firmly grounded in the Surrealist foundations of that movement, using forms just literal enough to operate on the margins of recognizability but ambiguous enough to encourage viewers to plumb their subconscious minds for the basis of that recognizability.  Nile Journey is realized as a sculpture to the point where one could say that it seems to have come into the world as it is, just as one could approach it closely to admire the welds and surface effects that are presented as products of the artist's hand and working methods, self evident in Modernist fashion.

     The polished bronze may not be as fully luminous as gold, but Nile Journey nicely lit and from a distance does give the impression of a subtly moving tree of gold, befitting the tomb of any pharoah.  The deliberate nature of its execution and intricacy of its composition seem to connect the artist's labor to an act of devotion, so that while the title remains a suggestion to the viewer it also directs understanding toward the piece as a kind of sacred artifact.  Hunt has an intent here, as much as he traffics in the arena of intuition and a multiplicity of perspectives.

     The formal qualities of Nile Journey collectively transport the viewer to a place that feels right, that feels somehow familiar, and that place is perhaps a distillation of enigmatic traits associated with Egypt, and with journeys.  In admiring this complex and inventive piece, viewers in effect surrender themselves to Hunt as a guide who takes them to a place they feel they have been to before and would like very much to go to again.



Gregg Hertzlieb is Curator and Director of the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University.  Hertzlieb is the editor of the books The Calumet Region: An American Place (Photographs by Gary Cialdella), published in 2009, and Domestic Vision: Twenty-Five Years of the Art of Joel Sheesley (2008), as well as a contributor to The Indiana Dunes Revealed: The Art of Frank V. Dudley (2006). He has been awarded the Edward L. Ryerson Traveling Fellowship by the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and a Conant Writing Award for Poetry from Millikin University.  His artwork has been exhibited widely, including at the Aron Packer Gallery, August House Studio, the Central School of Art and Design in London, Columbia College, Elgin Community College, the Goodman Theater, and Struve Gallery.