Michael Richards: Are You Down?

March 4–July 23, 2023
East Building, Level B, Video Gallery, Photography Gallery 1 (Julian T. Baker Jr. Gallery) and 2 (Allen G. Thomas Jr. Gallery)

This retrospective is the largest exhibition to date of sculptures and drawings by artist Michael Richards. It features nearly all of the work Richards made during a prolific decade of artistic production between 1990 and 2001. Michael Richards: Are You Down? takes its name from one of the last artworks the artist created.

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Richards’s artwork gestures toward both repression and reprieve from social injustices and the simultaneous possibilities of uplift and downfall, often in the context of the historic and ongoing oppression of Black people. Flight and aviation were central themes for Richards as an exploration of freedom and escape, ascendance and descent. These themes are especially evident in Richards’s engagement with the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, including his well-known sculpture Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian (1999)—a version of which has been on continuous display at the NCMA since 2003.

Of Jamaican and Costa Rican lineage, Richards was born in Brooklyn in 1963, raised in Kingston, and came of age between postindependence Jamaica and post–civil rights era America. Tragically, Richards passed away on September 11, 2001, while working in his Lower Manhattan Cultural Council World Views studio on the 92nd floor of World Trade Center, Tower One. At age 38, Richards was an emerging artist whose incisive aesthetic held immense promise to make him a leading figure in contemporary art.

Michael Richards: Are You Down? is co-curated by Alex Fialho and Melissa Levin, and organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. The exhibition is made possible with lead support from Oolite Arts and major support from the Wege Foundation. We are grateful to the Green Family Foundation and Funding Arts Network. Thanks to Brooke Davis Anderson; Roberta Denning; V. Joy Simmons, MD; Miami MoCAAD; and John Shubin for their generosity. Special thanks to Michael Richards’s cousin and steward of his estate, Dawn Dale.

In Raleigh additional support is made possible, in part, by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources; the North Carolina Museum of Art Foundation, Inc.; and the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment for Educational Exhibitions. Research for this exhibition was made possible by Ann and Jim Goodnight/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund for Curatorial and Conservation Research and Travel.

Michael Richards, Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian, 1999, resin and steel, H. 90 × W. 36 × D. 24 in.; © 2022 Michael Richards, Photograph by Oriol Tarridas Photograph courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, and The Michael Richards Estate

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