Remembering Artist Michael Richards on His Birthday

A smiling artist dressed in white stands to the right of a green sculpture.
Collection 9/11 Memorial & Museum, courtesy Nina Ferre.

On August 2, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum pays tribute to artist Michael Richards, remembered on what would have been his 58th birthday. Richards – killed on 9/11 while working in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s World View studio on the North Tower’s 92nd floor – is now the subject of a major retrospective at the North Miami Museum of Contemporary Art. 

The extensive exhibition, entitled “Are You Down?,” takes its name from one of the last pieces Richards worked on prior to his unforeseen death. The North Miami Museum of Contemporary Art show includes virtually all the sculptures and drawings he completed between 1990 and 2001, as well as documentation for site-specific installations. Born in Brooklyn, Richards was of Jamaican and Costa Rican ancestry; he focused on themes of racial inequality and the tension between assimilation and exclusion, often using flight and aviation as metaphors for freedom and escape, ascendance and descendance. In 1999, he produced “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian,” a sculptural tribute to the World War II African-American fliers known as the Tuskegee Airmen. He used his own body as a model for the representative Airman figure, shown with a fleet of miniature airplanes piecing its torso. Richards’ death in the attacks added a new layer of irony and meaning to metaphors like this. 

In September 2001, Richards was an emerging artist poised to become a leading voice in contemporary art. The retrospective – coinciding with the 20th anniversary of September 11 and open through October 10 – captures the power of his work and casts his prescient themes in the national spotlight – a position he tragically never lived to see. 

To further recognize Richards, the North Miami Museum of Contemporary Art will welcome his cousin Dawn Dale and the artist, filmmaker, and curator Tiona Nekkia McClodden in conversation on September 14. Along with the retrospective’s co-curators Alex Fialho and Melissa Levin, they will reflect on the breadth of Richards’ art and maturing career and discuss ongoing efforts and challenges to stewarding artists’ legacies in current times. Learn more.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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