MOCA Honors Michael Richards

Two virtual "Conversations with MOCA" will commemorate the twentieth anniversary of September 11 and the artist's passing

Michael Richards in Miami Beach (1999). Photograph by Keith Holmes, courtesy of Carolyn Swiszcz
Michael Richards in Miami Beach (1999). Photograph by Keith Holmes, courtesy of Carolyn Swiszcz

The Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (MOCA) will present two events this month, organized by “Michael Richards: Are You Down?” co-curators Melissa Levin and Alex Fialho, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001, and 20 years since artist Michael Richards’ passing.

The museum will host “Conversations at MOCA: Present & Possible—Honoring Michael Richards” on Tuesday, September 14, from 7-8:30 p.m. via Zoom (register here). Richards’ cousin Dawn Dale, Fialho, and Levin will chat with filmmaker, visual artist, and curator Tiona Nekkia McClodden to discuss stewarding artists’ legacies. Dale has stored and cared for Richards’ artworks for two decades; Fialho and Levin have curated Richards’ art since 2016; and McClodden has worked with the estates and archives of artists Brad Johnson, Essex Hemphill, and Julius Eastman. Together, their conversation will consider the ongoing work of uplifting Black artists, familial care for those who have passed, and amplifying Richards’ artistic practice in the wake of September 11.

Michael Richards Are You Down exhibition at MOCA, photo by Oriol Tarridas Photography
“Michael Richards: Are You Down?” exhibition at MOCA. Photo by Oriol Tarridas Photography

On Wednesday, September 29, audiences will tune into “Conversations at MOCA: Book Preview & Celebration” for the forthcoming monograph Michael Richards: Are You Down?, scheduled for publication in Spring 2022. The monograph is co-published by MOCA North Miami and New York Consolidated (N-Y-C). Edwidge Danticat, acclaimed Miami-based author and MacArthur Fellow, and Camille Crain Drummond, editorial director at N-Y-C, will discuss the wide-ranging themes in Richards’ dynamic artistic practice, including references to flight, the Tuskegee Airmen, Caribbean and African American histories, and more. Register here

MOCA is currently exhibiting “Michael Richards: Are You Down?,” the first museum retrospective of Richards’ work, exhibiting both his extensive sculpture and drawing practice.

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. Coincidentally, flight and aviation were central themes for Richards as an exploration of freedom and escape, and ascent and descent.

In light of the devastating circumstances that took Richards’ life, the airplanes and pilot imagery in his powerful works take on an added prescience. Coming of age between post-independence Jamaica and post-civil rights era America, Richards used metaphor to investigate racial inequity and the tension between assimilation and exclusion in his art.

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