735 Anderson Hill Rd
Purchase, NY 10577
Conceptual artist Fred Wilson is primarily known for rearranging art and artifacts in museum collections to reveal the difficult topics in our culture and society that are frequently overlooked. A 1999 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur (genius) Grant Award winner, Wilson gained critical acclaim in the early 1990s with the seminal exhibition Mining the Museum, in which he placed a whipping post in a gallery and encircled it with four ornate chairs—all from the permanent collection of the Maryland Historical Society.
Now, Wilson, who earned his B.F.A. with Purchase College’s first graduating class in 1976, is turning his eyes to his own alma mater. His show at the Neuberger Museum of Art, located on the Purchase campus, includes a survey of the artist’s work from 1995 to the present, featuring 76 pieces of his studio work. The exhibition, on view from March 19 to July 30, 2017, includes three new works by Wilson that have not been exhibited publicly before, and a site-specific installation that recontextualizes thirty-nine works from the Museum’s and the College’s collections to create an “artistic intervention” that subtly explores hidden agendas and how power is perpetuated by society’s institutions. The installation includes a display of a couple of Wilson’s own “collection projects,” put together over the artist’s career. This is the first time Wilson has exhibited together his studio work, a museum intervention, and collection projects within a museum context.
Jacqueline Shilkoff, Neuberger Museum Curator of New Media/Director of Digital Initiatives, says, “Wilson’s conceptual practice and his studio practice form a continuum. He researches process and context – how and why works of art are made and the sociopolitical environment in which they are interpreted. He investigates the dynamic between the self and society, and how societies in power dominate the historical narrative.”
Fred Wilson is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY. Generous support for this exhibition has been provided by Morgan Stanley and by ArtsWestchester with support from the Westchester County Government. Additional support has been provided by O. Anthony Maddalena, and Helen Stambler Neuberger and Jim Neuberger. Support is also provided by the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art and the Purchase College Foundation.
Museum Survey, 1995 to present
Wilson’s desire to reassess social and historical narratives and examine the politics of erasure and exclusion is apparent throughout his entire body of work featured in the survey, dating from the earliest work on view, “Old Salem: A Family of Strangers” (1995). The piece features 20 color photographs that document a collection of dolls, many of them depicting minorities, found in storage at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, NC. “This was a box of dolls that were gifted to the museum but would never be put on display. They were misfits,” Wilson says. “I wanted to give these characters a voice by making portraits of them. I saw their histories etched on their faces – their fear, their desires, their dignity.”
In “Snuff” (2003), created by Wilson when he represented America in the Venice Biennale, the artist examines the historical role of Africans in Venice. Wilson’s artworks in the Biennale were largely inspired by paintings at the Venice Academia and several other museums dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries and their images of Africans – gondolier drivers, merchants, and others – as part of the scene in Venice. Wilson utilized various wood and polychrome sculptures depicting Africans, often found in front of hotels and people’s homes. In this particular piece, the character in the candelabra is a reproduction of one from the opera house in Venice (Teatro La Fenice). Wilson pairs the sculpture with fire extinguishers and swirling hoses.
“I look at objects and other depictions of African people, and personify them,” he explains. “When I see them in service to someone else, I want to give them a life, an internal thinking. The piece is called “Snuff” – if you were to light it, this person depicted could easily blow it out. So, the figure is empowered to decide whether the object is lit or not.” Of course there are other meanings as well.
“No Way But This” (2013) is the third in Wilson’s series of chandeliers composed of Murano glass. Created in the style of Venetian Rezzonico chandeliers from the 18th century, it conjures up a history of class privilege, tradition, and race relations in Venice. But while Venetian chandeliers are cherished for their pastel colors, this piece is made of entirely opaque black crackled glass. It is also fitted with 1950s-style glass orbs, creating an uncomfortable mixture of two periods of design. “As beautiful as it is, it’s like a body and almost tumorous with these orbs,” says Wilson. In fact, the artwork’s title is based on a line from Othello, and the artist notes that the chandelier evokes the protagonist – “a magnificent and monstrous and mournful person.”
The Museum survey also includes three new works by Wilson: “Milieu,” “Slither,” and “Sparse Spill” (all from 2017). Made of black glass by Seattle glassblowers under Wilson’s direction, these oversized “glass drips” reflect the artist’s musings on shape and color and the various notions of what they can mean.
“With black, I can’t hide behind the color. Black glass is not shimmery; it absorbs light,” says Wilson. “That limitation has allowed me to push out other ideas beside the fact that it’s a beautiful thing. I am interested in what all the meanings of the word black and the color black are in our culture and around the world.”
Wilson spent the past several months doing extensive research into the Museum’s collection and archives and creating an “artistic intervention” in its second floor exhibition space. Utilizing works owned by the museum ¬ ¬– ranging from a wooden Ghana fertility figure to paintings by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Max Weber and Mark Rothko ¬– Wilson has manipulated them into a series of different environments.
“I’m exploring the relationships with what’s seen and not seen, as I do in many of my works,” explains Wilson. “Objects have various lives and these lives are formed by the context that they’re in. Where they’re moved to can change their meaning and they can become something different. My goal is to tease out other ways of looking at and viewing the objects and see what that elicits.”
The display also includes Wilson’s own “collection projects.” The artist has collected throughout his career, to explore how objects can have multiple meanings and how we, as Americans, understand objects in the many ways that they exist. By placing them together Wilson makes viewers realize their projections on objects and the meanings they bring to them.
Background: Fred Wilson
In addition to receiving a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” Wilson has represented the United States at the Biennial Cairo and the Venice Biennale. He has created site-specific installation in collaboration with museums and cultural institutions throughout North America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Wilson is also a trustee at the Whitney Museum and the Sculpture Center, and was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Object, Exhibition, and Knowledge at Skidmore College.
EVENTS ORGANIZED IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE EXHIBITION
Wednesday, March 22, 2017, 6:30 – 8 pm
Artist Talk: Fred Wilson
Fred Wilson talks about his site-specific installations that encourage viewers to reconsider social and historical narratives, raising critical questions about the politics of erasure and exclusion.
Wednesday, April 12, 12:30 pm
Members’ Tour: Fred Wilson
Curator Jacqueline Shilkoff will walk members through Fred Wilsons’ solo exhibition. Senior Members+
The Neuberger Museum of Art opened on the campus of Purchase College, SUNY, in 1974 with a core collection donated by one of the greatest private collectors, philanthropists, and arts advocates of the twentieth century, Roy R. Neuberger. The collection contains important works by some of our best-known artists including Milton Avery, Romare Bearden, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock. Housed in a building designed by Philip Johnson, the permanent collection now encompasses more than 7,000 works of contemporary, modern, and African art.
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Photo credit: Fred Wilson, Love and Loss in the Milky Way, 2005, 1 table with 47 milk glass elements; 1 plaster bust; 1 plaster head; 1 standing woman and a ceramic cookie jar. 77-3/4 x 92 x 43-7/8” (197.5 x 233.7 x 111.4 cm). © Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photograph by Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery.