Boston MLK sculpture is panned by art critics

‘A great shame – the concept was better than the execution’: Boston MLK Jr. sculpture ‘Embrace’ is panned… as some ask why artist behind the $10.5million bronze work removed the couple’s heads

  • The Embrace by Hank Willis Thomas was unveiled in Boston yesterday to fanfare
  • But art critics say the $10.5million bronze sculpture missed the mark 
  • They struggled to see the hug it represents, inspired by Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King
  • Some asked why the sculpture cost quite so much to make, while others questioned why the couple’s heads had been removed 

The new sculpture honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King has been panned a day after its unveiling in Boston, with many art critics left disappointed by the tribute to the civil rights icon.  

The sculpture, titled The Embrace, was inspired by a photograph of the couple hugging in 1964 after learning that Dr. King Jr. had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Hank Willis Thomas, the Brooklyn-based artist behind it, said he wanted to create a sculpture dedicated to love and not war, and that the image symbolized the strength of the iconic couple’s marriage. Members of the King family were there to watch the sculpture’s unveiling in Boston yesterday. 

But while the idea behind the piece is undeniably moving, the final result fell flat for many critics – not to mention Coretta’s cousin. 

The Embrace was unveiled in Boston yesterday ahead of Martin Luther King Day

The Embrace was unveiled in Boston yesterday ahead of Martin Luther King Day 

The sculpture was inspired by a hug shared by Dr. King and his wife Coretta when he learned he'd won the Nobel Peace Prize

The sculpture was inspired by a hug shared by Dr. King and his wife Coretta when he learned he’d won the Nobel Peace Prize 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hugs his wife Coretta after learning he'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 1964

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hugs his wife Coretta after learning he’d been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 1964

Former Guardian art critic Waldemar Januszczak said the 19-ton sculpture was a ‘particularly bad monument to Martin Luther King’ while others labeled it ‘awful’ and a ‘waste of money’. 

Many asked why the artist chose to depict the couple’s arms and shoulders but not their heads or faces, and said it was hard to ‘wrap the brain around’. 

‘Were they really so scared to commission a full figure naturalistic likeness?’ asked one critic.

‘A great shame, perhaps the concept was far better than the execution…it just looks… awful!’

Unimpressed: The sculpture fell flat for many who asked why the artist removed the couple's heads

Unimpressed: The sculpture fell flat for many who asked why the artist removed the couple’s heads 

Artists and art critics were similarly unimpressed with the sculpture

Artists and art critics were similarly unimpressed with the sculpture 

‘This is a sculpture that doesn’t translate well in a photo; a single angle view doesn’t capture it. 

‘Amazing idea, beautiful concept, but hard to wrap the brain around,’ said another. 

According to an interview with the artist by The New York Times, the sculpture was paid for in part by Embrace Boston – a part of The Boston Foundation. 

The charity ‘works toward racial and economic justice’, according to the Times’ report. 

It ‘helped provide resources and $10.5 million in funds’ which includes a ‘maintenance fund’ for the sculpture and the park in which it sits. 

Artist Hank Willis Thomas at the unveiling yesterday. He said he wanted to create a sculpture dedicated to 'love' not war

Artist Hank Willis Thomas at the unveiling yesterday. He said he wanted to create a sculpture dedicated to ‘love’ not war

Thomas said of the sculpture: ‘When we recognize that all storytelling is an abstraction, all representation is an abstraction, hopefully it allows us to be open to more dynamic and complex forms of representation that don’t stick us to narrative that oversimplifies a person or their legacy, and I think this work really tries to get to the heart of that.’ 

In an interview with CBS a week ago, he said he was inspired by the image of Dr. King and his wife. 

There was an intimacy that I saw that wasn’t highlighted often. I just love that image – him hugging her with such glee and such joy and price. I saw the pride on her face and I recognized that this was teamwork. 

‘All of his weight in that picture is on her.’ 

Coretta’s cousin was among those who criticized the finished result.

‘The woke algorithm is just broke, I don’t know what else to tell you. If you went through all of that and that’s what you came up with, something’s wrong,’ he told The New York Post.    

Martin Luther III (right) with Andrea Waters King and Yolanda Renee King at the unveiling yesterday

Martin Luther III (right) with Andrea Waters King and Yolanda Renee King at the unveiling yesterday 

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