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Remarks by Joseph Becherer

From the ISC’s 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award Gala honoring Richard Hunt

April 29, 2009

Chicago, IL

I was deeply honored when Richard asked if I would share a few personal comments and insights on this special evening. Many adjectives to describe this man immediately sprang to mind, but to be succinct required reflection on my relationship with him.

When I first came on board to help develop a Sculpture Program at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park ten years ago, the celebrated collection and exhibitions we enjoy today did not exist.  There was enthusiasm and intelligence, good will to be had and hard work hard work to be done, a most amazing patron and one urgent, initial request, “please, call Richard Hunt.”

Richard was the first major sculptor we commissioned.  His Column of the Free Spirit of 1999 is now a majestic and inspirational icon in our park.  The following year, a large retrospective of Richard’s work was the inaugural exhibition in newly completed galleries.  In both the commission and the exhibition, the staff had many questions, the organization was finding its way, the art world was watching.  Throughout, Richard was patient and kind, thoughtful and encouraging, generous and insightful, grateful and humble.

Patient and kind.  What precious characteristics for an oak among saplings.  Yes, he presented us with a remarkable sculpture and a critically acclaimed exhibition, but he was empowering us, giving us strength to grow in ways only a master can envision for his pupils.  Because of our first experiences with Richard Hunt, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park grew in wisdom and experience that lay the foundation for a collection and exhibition program with Abakanowicz and Bourgeois, Caro and di Suvero, Oldenburg and van Bruggen, Pomodoro, Rickey, Segal and Snelson, among others – legends whose pantheon Richard has long inhabited, but tonight we recognize in concert for lifetime achievement in Contemporary sculpture.   

Long ago, my colleagues and I secretly came up with our own little honor for Richard (which he knows nothing about).  For us, a “Richard Hunt project” is the very best kind of project. Our greatest compliment, it is the very pinnacle of our internal rating system for sculptors with whom we have worked on installations or exhibitions. Working with Richard set the bar very high for every project that followed, but not every project was on par with Richard Hunt.  (I was initially sworn to secrecy about the bottom end of our scale, but now that our endowment has taken a hit, I suppose I could pull a Carly Simon and whisper it in your ear for the right price.)

This said, working with Richard is not without its significant footnotes.  For example, in the filming of a documentary on Richard in his very and full very busy West Lill Street studio, our naïve cameraman innocently asked him how it was possible to tell the difference between the scrap metal (I think he used the word “junk”) and the sculpture.  Without missing a beat, Richard turned, smiled, and replied, “You know that is a very good question” and proceeded to speak specifically with the cameraman about his work and about transformation and creativity.  I wish we had that on film.  A lesser soul may have scowled or leveled a barb or two, but not Richard Hunt. 

This is the same man who gladly reaches out to young artists, happily attends openings at galleries and museums that are not always central to the “art scene”, and is woven so thoroughly throughout the cultural community of Chicago, but perhaps more poignantly, built bridges of hope in the racially divided communities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan.  Patient and kind.  Thoughtful and encouraging.

As some of you may know, Richard sometimes runs a few minutes late.  His clock is unlike any other.  My family is Italian and they always manage to run a few minutes late, we call it Mediterranean time.  Richard is frequently a bit later than that, so I always just assumed he was just a bit more Mediterranean, maybe he’s Greek… or Turkish… or Lebanese, I never asked.  But never fear, if Richard Hunt says he will be there, he will come.  (I have every confidence that he will be here any minute now…)

In all jest there is truth, so too, there are always exceptions.  Four years ago we were making a new film celebrating Mr. and Mrs. Meijer, our major patrons, on location in Grand Rapids.  Because of our esteem for Richard, we asked him to be in the film to which he readily agreed.  The problem was the film crew was very expensive, (I think they charged by the millisecond), and the producer was extremely nervous about costs. My one job was to make sure Richard was there on time.  So I fibbed.  I told Richard an earlier time for his section of filming thinking he would show up a little late, but it would actually maintain the real schedule and the keep producer calm and on the production on budget.  Not only did Richard show up on time, he actually arrived early and the film crew was not yet ready for him.  At first I was shocked, then embarrassed that Richard would unravel my fib, but finally my eyes were opened to the real truth.

In this instance, Richard was on time, because it was a project about someone else.  It was not a project about him, but a celebration of others that he held dear. He was participating in the gift, he was giving, his clock was now running on Swiss time.  Indeed, this was the same man who supports young artists, reaches beyond the fashion and fads of expected art world haunts, and has been a source of inspiration and hope in cultural communities large and small, those peacefully assimilated and others tensely divided. Patient and kind, thoughtful and encouraging, generous and insightful.

            Against the backdrop of such attributes one wonders if this is learned behavior or just integral to their spirit.  I found confirmation of my suspicions in a 1974 interview Richard gave after being awarded a significant GSA commission in Richmond, California.  He said, “I felt again those contradictory feelings I usually have when awarded an important commission. Happy to be chosen, deserving and all that, but concerned, worried – will it be all that I and they hope it will be?” --- “Concerned, worried – will it be all that I and they hope it will be?” Although thirty five years have passed since these words were spoken, we immediately recognize this soul. It could only be Richard Hunt. Yes, patient and kind, thoughtful and encouraging, generous and insightful, and still further, grateful and humble. This is a part of the man, and I suspect that were he to have become a teacher or scientist or lawyer, such characteristics would remain true.  How doubly fortunate we are that he became a sculptor.  One only wishes such attributes were offered in earnest and with greater frequency in the art world.

Richard, I know that you work your prefer to work in metal and steel, occasionally in bronze, but for me, for Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, for the people gathered together this evening, and for the sculpture community, your work in a more precious material, gold.  Through your artistry and in your humanity you are the gold standard. Our every congratulation to you and wish for countless blessings for you. 


Given by:

Joseph  Becherer, Director/Curator, Sculpture Program, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park 


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

ISC 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award Gala Honoring Richard Hunt

Chicago, IL

Thank you to our additional Gala sponsors: