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Conceptual artist Fred Wilson (born in 1954 in The Bronx) describes himself as of "African, Native American, European and Amerindian" descent. [1 ] In May 2008, it was announced Mr. Wilson will become a Whitney Museum trustee replacing Chuck Close.

Wilson received a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 1999 and the Larry Aldrich Foundation Award in 2003. Wilson represented the United States at the Biennial Cairo in 1992 and the Venice Biennale in 2003.[2] In 2001, he was the subject of a retrospective, Fred Wilson: Objects and Installations, 1979-2000, organized by Maurice Berger for the Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The show traveled to numerous venues, including the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Berkeley Museum of Art, Blaffer Art Gallery (University of Houston), Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery (Skidmore College Saratoga Springs, NY), Addison Gallery, Chicago Cultural Center, Studio Museum in Harlem.

In his 1992 seminal work co-organized with The Contemporary Museum, “Mining the Museum,” Wilson reshuffled the Maryland Historical Society’s collection to highlight the history of Native and African Americans in Maryland. For the 2003 Venice Biennale, Wilson created a multi-media installation which borrowed its title from a line in "Othello." His elaborate Venice work, "Speak of Me as I Am," focused on representations of Africans in Venetian culture.[1 ]

An alumnus of the famous Music & Art High School in New York, Wilson received a BFA from SUNY Purchase in 1976, where he was the only black student in his program,[1 ] he says that he no longer has a strong desire to make things with his hands. “I get everything that satisfies my soul,” he says, “from bringing together objects that are in the world, manipulating them, working with spatial arrangements, and having things presented in the way I want to see them.”[3]

Wilson's unique artist approach is to examine, question, and deconstruct the traditional display of art and artifacts in museums. With the use of new wall labels, sounds, lighting, and non-traditional pairings of objects, he leads viewers to recognize that changes in context create changes in meaning. For his installation at the 2003 Venice Biennale he employed a tourist to pretend to be an African street vendor selling fake designer bags - in fact his own designs. He also incorporated "blackamoors", sculptures of black people in the role of servants, into the show.[4] Such figures were often used as stands for lights. Wilson placed his wooden blackamoors carrying acetylene torches and fire extinguishers. He noted that such figures are so common in Venice that few people notice them, stating, "they are in hotels everywhere in Venice...which is great, because all of a sudden you see them everywhere. I wanted it to be visible, this whole world which sort of just blew up for me."[4]

Wilson's unorthodox artistic practice impels us to question the biases and limitations of cultural institutions and how they have shaped our interpretations of artistic value and historical truth.


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