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Huck and Jim

Charles Ray American

Not on view

Full of gravitas and portent, Huck and Jim interprets a moment in chapter 19 of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when the protagonists debate the origin of the stars while floating down the Mississippi River on a raft. The figures are about twice life-size and are shown in a state of acute absorption. Youthful and curious, Huck bends forward to scoop an invisible object off the ground. Stoic and self-possessed, Jim stares into the distance, his hand hovering over Huck’s back. Twain’s characters are often not wearing clothes in the novel. Ray, who has been exploring the nude figure since the 1980s, thought nudity also suited the sculpture, which was originally conceived for a fountain outside the Whitney Museum of American Art. What signals freedom and homosociality in the book introduces the troubling possibility of transgenerational desire in the sculpture, bringing about what Ray has described as a "layered dynamic."

The artist, who sought to capture "a complexity in the relationship between Huck and Jim that is American in the deepest sense," once compared the sculpture to a "forest of limbs." Though they do not touch, the figures appear interwoven, an effect produced by their relative positions as well as by the reflective surface of the machined stainless steel.

Huck and Jim, Charles Ray (American, born Chicago, Illinois, 1953), Stainless steel

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photograph by Josh White