BAHM: 2.7.17 Fred Wilson
Fred Wilson is a New York based artist working in conceptual installation that centers on themes of social visibility in institutions and historical erasure. Scholars and art historians have written extensively of Wilson’s work in relation to Institutional Critique, a movement born out of Minimalism. He is the 1999 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, represented the U.S. in the 2003 Venice Biennale.
In one of his most notable exhibitions, Mining the Museum (1992) at the Maryland Historical Society, Wilson extrapolated a number of objects from the institution’s archives that highlighted Maryland’s history of slavery and legacy of racism. He then rearranged the museum to create new meanings and historical connections, juxtaposing these long-hidden (sometimes even forgotten) items with those more suitable for display and manipulating wall text, lighting and display apparatuses.
Wilson’s multimedia exhibition at the 2003 Venice Biennale, Speak of Me as I Am, featured several of the artist’s own minimalist sculptures and works of Egyptian influence alongside classical Greek sculptures, paintings that depicted the Moors in Venetian society and Blackamoor sculptures (exoticized, African servant figurines). While touching on “personal themes of sadness and regret, of memory and trauma, pain and loss,” the exhibition also highlighted the continued erasure of the African and Middle Eastern cultural influence on European history so prevalent in exclusionary historical discourse surrounding the Renaissance. (Salah M. Hassan, Fred Wilson's Black Venezia)
In a more recent exhibition at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2012, titled Life’s Link, Wilson was given access to a portion of the Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art. Pulling from hundred of archival documents, sculptures and works of all mediums, and using Savannah Grey bricks, produced by slaves to build the city, Wilson pieced together a poetic interpretation of a collection that spans 150 years of African American artistic production. “I am no longer interested in just making museum language visible;” stated Wilson, “museum display is not the medium of this exhibition; instead visceral material connects history to the immediacy of the hand or gesture.” (BOMB Magazine Interview by Kathleen MacQueen) Material production presents itself in several forms, from the painstaking, forced labor of the Savannah Grey bricks to the work of the many African American artists featured in the collection along with the personal and historic memorabilia of the ongoing struggle for recognition and equality, pioneered by icons such as Frederick Douglas and Angela Davis.
Video by Victoria and Albert Museum: Fred Wilson discusses Mining the Museum project
Art21 video: Fred Wilson: Beauty & Ugliness