Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden Is on View at PAFA

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) celebrates 20th-century African American sculptor John Rhoden (1916–2001) with Determined To Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden, the first comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work. Curated by Dr. Brittany Webb, the Evelyn and Will Kaplan Curator of Twentieth Century Art and the John Rhoden Collection at PAFA, the exhibition is on view through April 7, 2024. In 2017, PAFA was selected by the John Rhoden Estate to assume the responsibility of preserving and promoting Rhoden’s artistic legacy. The Rhoden Collection includes over 300 works of art and 22 linear feet of archival materials.

We’re excited to present Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden to our audiences. This unique exhibition, the culmination of years of dedicated work by our staff, continues PAFA’s long tradition of contributing to and expanding the diverse history of American art, while shining a light on a less well-known African American artist and bringing new stories to our visitors.

Eric Pryor, PAFA President and CEO

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, John Rhoden discovered a talent and passion for sculpting during his youth, was mentored and advised by artists in the South before moving to New York in the late 1930s, and made a life in the arts when opportunities for artists of color were still very limited. PAFA’s monographic exhibition and catalogue include scholarship based on new archival information, presenting Rhoden’s arc from a modest background to a world-traveling artist. It showcases 70 of his sculptures in bronze, wood, and stone; highlights relationships that defined and supported his life; and charts his career, noting relationships to key figures and institutions in 20th-century American art.

John Rhoden was a prolific sculptor whose talent and drive sent him around the world and back. His story is as big as his over-life sized sculptures, and I’m thrilled that we all have the opportunity to get more familiar with his work and his legacy through this exhibition.

Dr. Brittany Webb, Evelyn and Will Kaplan Curator of Twentieth Century Art and the John Rhoden Collection

A World War II veteran, John Rhoden attended Talladega College and later the New School for Social Research and Columbia University. He subsequently won scholarships to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and a Fulbright Fellowship. He was the first Black visual artist fellow at the American Academy of Rome, exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and won major awards including the Tiffany Award for Sculpture and the Rome Prize.

In a 1966 interview about his practice, Rhoden said “I put every feeling, every passion — everything I have — into sculpting. Someone once asked me why I do it: there are so many easier things. I can only say this: sculpting is my life.” In 1985 the Birmingham Museum of Art mounted a survey of Rhoden’s work until that point in his life.

Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden will be accompanied by a robust schedule of public programming, educational activities, and special events.

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