Press release: Abigail DeVille, “Light of Freedom”

On view through January 31, 2021

Light of Freedom Responds to the Past and Present By Mining Untold Histories 

Press release: Abigail DeVille,

Abigail DeVille (American, b. 1981), Proposal for Light of Freedom in Madison Square Park, New York, 2020 (left) and H.T. Anthony, Publisher, Olympic Theatre, Hand Torch, Madison Square, c. 1876, The New York Public Library (right)


New York, NY | October 27, 2020 — For Madison Square Park Conservancy’s public art commissioning program, artist Abigail DeVille has installed Light of Freedom, a new work that reflects the despair and exultation of this turbulent period. The project is a thirteen-foot high reference to the Statue of Liberty’s torch, and to the scaffolding that encased it during construction. DeVille has filled her torch with a well-worn bell, a herald of freedom, and the arms of mannequins, beseeching viewers. The scaffold, which prevents access symbolically as well as physically, also recalls a work site, an insistent image in the urban landscape. The torch itself refers to the light of democracy and its foundation in ancient systems of government by citizens. Formative to Light of Freedom are the words of abolitionist, author and statesman Frederick Douglass, who proclaimed in a 1857 address in Canandaigua, New York: “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”

The artist, who maintains a studio in the Bronx, uses public space to explore overlooked narratives. In Light of Freedom, she will mark significant crossroads in the history of African-Americans in New York. This work recognizes and hallows the area’s earliest enslaved Africans, who were brought to New Amsterdam in 1626, and critiques the promise of democracy represented by the arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, which were installed in Madison Square Park from 1876 to 1882. Light of Freedom also summons the current Black Lives Matter movement. As the organization that stewards historic Madison Square Park, the Conservancy has worked to address the question of how public art can respond in civic space to this unprecedented time. DeVille’s Light of Freedom, the program’s fortieth public art project, will be on view through January 2021. 

“Abigail DeVille is known for using found materials and for uncovering the hidden record of lives lived in urban populations,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. “Art in civic space can often react to pressing issues literally and metaphorically. DeVille’s work is uplifting and contemplative in its recognition of the pandemic, protests and the election season.”

“We are honored to work with Abigail DeVille on Light of Freedom as she realizes this important project in the Park,” added the Conservancy’s Executive Director Keats Myer. “The Park has remained open since the pandemic began here, providing an outdoor location for respite and relief for those who have been isolated. Families, neighbors, communities and workers are all in the Park as are protestors who have used the site to gather.”

Light of Freedom is organized by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator and Tom Reidy, Senior Project Manager. Keats Myer is the Conservancy’s Executive Director.


Public Programs
Light of Freedom will be complemented by Zoom programs with the artist. The schedule will be announced at a later date. 


About the Artist
Abigail DeVille (American, b. 1981) creates sculpture, installation and performance often incorporating found materials from her neighborhood and the streets around the exhibition venue. Her work has focused on gentrification, lost regional histories, community transformation and racism. DeVille’s projects pivot from the Modernist tradition of collage and assemblage as she makes objects and environments that gather found and acquired materials. She participated in Madison Square Park Conservancy’s symposium, Innovating Public Art (2019). She has exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, New Museum in New York and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. 

DeVille was born in New York and works in the Bronx. The artist received a BFA from the Fashion Institute of Technology (2007), attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2007) and received an MFA from Yale University (2011). DeVille has participated in residencies at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn (2012), the Studio Museum in Harlem (2013-14), The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellowship (2014-15), Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva (2017) and the American Academy in Rome / Rome Prize (2017-18). She has received awards from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Van Lier Fund of New York Community Trust, Creative Capital, United States Artists, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation. The artist teaches in the Interdisciplinary Sculpture Department at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and, in spring 2021, at Yale School of Art. 


Exhibition Support
Leadership support for Light of Freedom is made possible by the Ford Foundation.

Major support is provided by Candy and Michael Barasch, Suzanne Deal Booth, Ed Bradley Family Foundation, Harold and Colene Brown Family Foundation, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family, Stardust Arts, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Additional support is provided by Eve Biddle, Ingrid Cincala-Gilbert, Shawna C. Gallancy, Stephanie Joyce and Jim Vos, Rebecca Kramer, Charles Moffett, Catherine E. Sippin, Sarah Stein-Sapir, and Anonymous.

Major support for Mad. Sq. Art is provided by Sasha C. Bass, Bunny & Charles Burson, Toby Devan Lewis, Ronald A. Pizzuti, Thornton Tomasetti, Tiffany & Co., Anonymous, and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. Substantial support is provided by Charina Endowment Fund, Eataly, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Jacques & Natasha Gelman Foundation, The Sol Lewitt Fund for Artist Work, Mad. Sq. Art Council, Audrey & Danny Meyer, The New York EDITION, the Rudin Family, and Sorgente Group of America. Additional support is provided by 400 Park Avenue South, Irving Harris Foundation, Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, and Fern and Lenard Tessler. 

Madison Square Park Conservancy is a public/private partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.

Thank you to Materials for the Arts.

Following the exhibition in Madison Square Park, Light of Freedom will be on view at the Momentary, a satellite contemporary art space of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.


About Madison Square Park Conservancy
Madison Square Park Conservancy cultivates and enlivens Madison Square Park, a dynamic seven-acre public park in New York City’s Flatiron District and one of the city’s most treasured greenspaces. Through its public art commissions, horticultural stewardship, and engaging programming, the nonprofit creates an urban oasis that welcomes a diverse community of over 60,000 visitors each day. Keats Myer is the Conservancy’s Executive Director.

Since 2004, the Conservancy has become a leader in commissioning new works of public art, curating and presenting forty major site-specific installations and solo exhibitions through its Mad. Sq. Art programming. Led by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator, the program invites leading artists to push the boundaries of their practice and create risk-taking new works that experiment with materiality, scale, and theme in response to the Park’s unique environment. The ambition of the commissioning program expands each year alongside the diverse range of innovative artists including Diana Al-Hadid, Tony Cragg, Leonardo Drew, Josiah McElheny, Iván Navarro, Martin Puryear, Erwin Redl, Alison Saar, Arlene Shechet, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Krzysztof Wodiczko.

In 2019, the Conservancy served as the commissioning institution for the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, marking the first time that an organization whose visual art program focuses exclusively on public art has received this honor. With Rapaport serving as Commissioner and Curator, the Conservancy presented new work by Martin Puryear.


For more information contact
Deepka Sani,