Richmond Barthé ‘Exodus & Dance’ at Kingsborough Houses to be Restored




Richmond Barthé’s Green Pastures: The Walls of Jericho (1938), a sculpture located at the Kingsborough Houses (also in Crown Heights). Barthé, who identified as homosexual, is considered the most important sculptor of African-American modernism in the first half of the twentieth century. Photos via NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

In 2021, the Fulton Art Fair celebrated Black History Month and the 100th birthday of artist Richmond Barthé with the announcement of a restoration for the much loved relief,  ‘Exodus and Dance.’ at Kingsborough Houses in Weeksville, Brooklyn.

An update in January, 2023 by New York City Housing Authority’s Design Services Department indicated that the project finished design in the fall of 2022, and is currently in the procurement process.  Construction will tentatively begin in Spring of 2023, with an anticipated finish by the end of 2024.

Detail of ‘Green Pastures: The Walls of Jericho’ (1938) by Richard Barthé. Photo by Ken Lustbader/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

Weeksville Heritage Society, in partnership with the Public Design Commission, Fulton Art Fair, and with funding provided by the NYC Council, NYCHA announced the restoration of the Richmond Barthé’s frieze, Exodus and Dance, which was installed in 1941.

The project calls for the panels to be removed for restoration and conservation, and a new supporting wall to be constructed. The project design was scheduled to begin in Spring/Summer 2021. However, as we know, the pandemic has slowed many projects down.

Panorama of “Green Pastures: The Walls of Jericho” (1938) by Richmond Barthé, 2018. Photo by Ken Lustbader/YC LGBT Historic Sites Project

We were delighted to hear  (in September 2021) that the Office of Management and Budget has cleared the project, and it is now at the Controller’s Office for registration of the design contract. According to NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, that means it’s really going to happen, and construction should begin in Spring 2023.

The current proposal is to move the sculpture several feet to one side to allow more space, possibly to use as seating, with the piece serving as a backdrop to a performance space, which was Barthe’s original intent for the sculpture at Harlem River Houses.

The last community presentation was held in September 2022 at the Weeksville Heritage Center, and was attended by Kingsborough Houses Resident Association President, Development operations staff, NYCHA A&CM Project team, design consultants Ronnette Riley Associates and NYCHA Intergovernmental Liaison. Also present were key community stakeholders from Fulton Art Fair and representatives from NYC Public Design Commission.

Richmond Barthé (1901-1989) was born in Mississippi. After his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, he moved to Harlem in 1929, during the Harlem Renaissance. This was the artists first public commission, which was part of the WPA, and was an 80 foot relief created from cast stone. It was originally intended for the Harlem River Houses, but after it was completed, it was instead installed at Kingsborough Houses in Brooklyn.

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