Melvin Edwards, Agricole, 2016. Photo: © Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy the artist and Alexander Gray Associates, New York; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

Object Lessons: Melvin Edwards

Agricole, the suspended plow form, comes from the French for “agriculture.” Human beings didn’t start out in cities. Cities originated as places of exchange, and now they’ve gotten to the point where something that used to happen once a week or once a month—the trading of goods and services—becomes the dominator. But this goes back to when human beings were agriculturally involved, and then they came together. The point is you still have to cultivate the earth, you still have to cultivate your thinking, you still have to go from one point to another. In art, of course, you can start and stop where you want; you can invent your own set of ideas and work from them. Human beings have done that for thousands of years. We say “modern” art, talking about the last hundred years or so, and yet we’re living with the heritage of 30,000 or 40,000 years.

Around 1965 or ’66, I made a piece called Earth Thing, which also has a plow form at one end; but instead of being suspended, it runs about seven or eight feet along the ground. I’ve never shown them together, but the next time I show Agricole, I may show Earth Thing with it. It’s a 50-year difference, but the idea is organic. I can work from then to now and think conceptually from then to now. People want to break art up into parts and say, “This is conceptual and this is site related.” The truth is you can’t make art without conceiving it.

“Melvin Edwards: Crossroads” remains on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art through January 12, 2020.