Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Independence Ave. at 7th St., SW
Sculpture Garden Floor Plan
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.