Artist Gwen Yen Chiu, the Chicago Sculpture Exhibit’s 2021 Richard Hunt Award winner, and Richard Hunt speak with reporters Monday after the installation of her sculpture “Thought Vortex” at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Halsted Street. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Artist Gwen Yen Chiu’s sculpture is a depiction of current events, the pandemic and political strife.

Gwen Yen Chiu’s sculpture of twisted aluminum depicts the ever-evolving human mind as it consumes and responds to current events and political strife.

The 12-foot-tall artwork, titled “Thought Vortex,” was unveiled Monday at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Halsted Street.

“I sketched the piece out when all the Asian hate crimes started happening in the U.S.,” said Chiu, 28. “I started thinking about the BIPOC community, immigrant families and all the first generations here, and it was just all these thoughts. And that’s kind of what the vortex is representative of — these never-ending thoughts.”

Chiu, a 2018 School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate, said those thoughts felt inescapable and the vortex was a way to visualize that, as the twisted aluminum never reaches a peak. The sculpture acted as an ode to what she describes as a maximization of political and social issues over the past four years.

The Chicago artist is the first winner of the Richard Hunt Award, which grants emerging and mid-career level artists $10,000 to create large-scale public art installations across the city.

Chicago Sculpture Exhibit established the Richard Hunt Award in partnership with Hunt to foster diversity to Chicago’s large-scale public art scene.

“She is hardworking, conscientious,” Hunt said of Chiu. “The way she has scaled it, the way pedestrians and people driving by have access to look at the sculpture — it works. The meaning and purpose that she projects into it is important. I like the way this big, opening curve coming out at the top suggests that in the end there is this ascendance through all twisted turmoil.”

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Artist Gwen Yen Chiu helps with the installation of her sculpture “Thought Vortex” at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Halsted Street on the North Side.

Chiu was selected by a CSE jury of three art experts, one of which was Jordan Carter, an associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“I think she really takes on Richard’s legacy with this engagement of the environment,” Carter said. “She is a part of a new generation of artists who are using metal to abstract sculpture in great ways, really using the material and responding to the needs of the material in a new and energizing way.”

At the center of the sculpture, inside, was a chair meant to represent the forced isolation of people during the pandemic. The chair also had a distinct Ming Dynasty style, a reference to Chiu’s family history, since her family first migrated from China to Taiwan to escape turmoil and find a home.

The aluminum sculpture also exhibited Chinese characters of the artist’s family teachings, written words passed down through memory. It read, “Literature will change the world; through literature, elegance and poetry must be the element to retain the family.”

Chiu completed the sculpture in about two months, which she said was a challenging time frame for a project that required casting and welding of metal sheets, inscription and more on a large scale.

“The goal was to encourage younger, new people to get into large-scale sculpture,” said Barbara Guttmann, CSE executive director. “This is Gwen’s first public piece, so this is exactly what we had hoped to do.”

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