Karsten Schubert is pleased to announce Fred Wilson’s first solo exhibition in London.
The American artist’s work engages with issues such as cultural heritage, racial stereotyping, ownership and privilege. With a focus on cultural and institutional critique, Wilson is best known for his collaborative interventions in museum collections around the world.
Wilson is most celebrated for the landmark 1992 installation Mining the Museum in which he re- contextualised artifacts from The Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, US. As part of the exhibition, rusty slave chains were provocatively displayed alongside fine silverware and reward advertisements for runaway ‘servants’ hung above an oversized, antique musket. Contemplative rather than didactic, Wilson’s juxtapositions of museum artifacts interrupt entrenched prejudices whilst encouraging their gradual deconstruction. As the American representative at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003), Wilson explored the city’s historical relationship with Africa and Africans. Bringing attention to often marginalized aspects of Venice’s history, Wilson selected paintings with African servants shown on the periphery, the role of Othello over time and he even hired African vendors to sell their replica designer bags outside the pavilion.
On view at Karsten Schubert, works such as The Mete of the Muse (2004–07) distill the essence of Wilson’s museum interventions and expand upon his work in Venice. Here, a black Egyptian figure stands still and attentive by a self-absorbed white European nude. The contrast draws out culturally codified notions of black and white identity whilst leading the viewer to guess the relationship between the two figures as if they were present and real individuals. A Thousand Points (2009), an illuminated globe painted over with black enamel, references the history of African migration and the present-day exportation and exploitation of natural resources such as oil. Furthering his continued questioning of power, Wilson has recreated the Diamond Diadem – worn by successive English monarchs since 1821 – out of black diamonds. Entitled Regina Atra (2006), Wilson’s desire for the viewer to reflect is alluded to in his formal use of reflective black surfaces, as in Quartet (2010), a blown glass sculpture reminiscent of flowing tears and drops of oil – suggestive of the suffering caused by both exploitation associated with the mining of natural resources and corrupt regimes.
These sculptural works are accompanied by the large-scale installation, Flags (2009), in which twenty-one African and African diaspora flags have been drained of all colour and rendered in black on raw canvas; each flag is accompanied by a text piece, which lists all of the colours that have been removed. Wilson’s paintings of the flags typify his appropriation of and adaptation of imagery or symbols that are often taken for granted, or unquestioned. In erasing the colours, Wilson comments upon the significance of this set of flags that developed as African nations gained sovereignty following World War II.