Peter Reginato, Kingfish

Peter Reginato, Kingfish: An Homage to Tim Moore, 1986. Painted steel, 113 × 121 × 62 inches. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1987 (1987.226). Photo by Paul Bardagjy.

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Peter Reginato, Kingfish: An Homage to Tim Moore, 1986.

American, born 1945


In the late 1960s—the era in which sculpture was dominated by the modernist aesthetic of geometric abstraction—Peter Reginato (b. 1945) found rigid geometries too anonymous and lacking in individualism. He preferred the visual energy and physical buoyancy of biomorphic shapes, harking back to the energetic qualities of earlier constructions made by Alexander Calder (1898–1976), Julio Gonzalez (1876–1942), Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), and David Smith (1906–1965). 


Reginato began by drawing fluidly contoured shapes on sheet metal, which he then cut out with a blowtorch. He joined them together at the edges with spot welds so that the forms appear to float in a delicate dance. Through his sculptural work Reginato aimed to express the spontaneity of drawing in three dimensions: “I like to think that all my rippling, swelling forms could easily be flying wildly in space.” His vibrant color palette further animates the forms. 


“Peter Reginato had been defying these strictures [truth to materials, truth to form, honing form down to its essence, non-referential modalities], by using color in his sculptures and introducing a sensuousness and biomorphism to form, and even evoking content,” wrote Lowery Stokes Sims, the curator who acquired the sculpture for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “In the larger context of post-modern art, his work challenged the norm, in the same way that artists of color did with their determination to forge practices that expressed identity and cultural nuances, and that women did by courting craft and domestic arts to be seen in the context of the Museum and the gallery.” By finding his own path apart from the austerity of minimalism and equally distant from Pop art, Reginato’s idiosyncratic works have a vitality that is daring and brightly colored. The artist once noted, “essentially my work is joyous.”


The title Kingfish is an homage to late actor and comedian Tim Moore, known for his long career in live performance and famously for his role on the television show Amos ‘n’ Andy as the character George “Kingfish” Stevens. Amos 'n' Andy first aired as radio broadcasts, followed by a protracted television run. Together, these shows ran from the late 1920s for a period of several decades. Reginato named the sculpture after Moore’s characterization on the TV show which originally aired between 1951-53. The actor is largely considered the first African-American television celebrity, after a long career on the vaudeville circuit, Broadway, and as a live and radio comedian. The show drew controversy for its racist caricatures of African Americans and was eventually pulled from production after successful protests from the NAACP and African American activists. 


For many years Reginato made art inspired by African American artists, actors, and musicians. He paid tribute to their work through drawing, painting, video, and sculpture. Kingfish has the subtitle An Homage to Tim Moore that was added by the artist in 2019, after criticism arose about the title’s association with Amos ‘n’ Andy. The change makes plain the artist’s admiration for the actor and acknowledges that his role was derived from blackface minstrelsy at a time when black actors were exploited to further harmful stereotypes. Reginato’s reference to Moore is a reminder of the entanglements of representation and the capacity for interpretation and understanding to evolve over time. Today the sculpture offers a complex context through which to examine America’s troubled past with racist caricatures and the subtle ways in which they permeate our everyday lives.

Peter Reginato, Kingfish: An Homage to Tim Moore, 1986. Photo by Paul Bardagjy.
Peter Reginato, Kingfish: An Homage to Tim Moore, 1986. Photo by Paul Bardagjy.

Location: SSB Courtyard

GPS: 30.29017, -97.73850