Fred Wilson ’76
Fred Wilson is renowned for his interdisciplinary practice that challenges assumptions of history, culture, race, and conventions of display. By reframing objects and cultural symbols, he alters traditional interpretations, encouraging viewers to reconsider social and historical narratives.
Wilson’s early work was directed at marginalized histories, exploring how models of categorization, collecting, and display exemplify fraught ideologies and power relations inscribed into the fabric of institutions.
His groundbreaking and historically significant exhibition Mining the Museum (1992) at the Maryland Historical Society radically altered the landscape of museum exhibition narratives. As interventions, or “mining,” of the museum’s archive, Wilson re-presented its materials to make visible hidden structures built into the museum system and American Society as a whole.
At the onset of the twenty-first century, Wilson began to place more focus on his object-based work. In collaboration with the prominent American glassblower Dante Marioni, he began producing his first glass artworks in 2001—ambiguous black-colored forms that assert a multifaceted political undercurrent. “The color black represents African American people because it’s been placed on us as a representation,” Wilson says. “Of course, the color black—the absence of light—really has nothing to do with African Americans. But there’s a whole other layer of meaning.”
Wilson continued his exploration of glass with Speak of Me As I Am, his exhibition for the United States pavilion at the 2003 Venice Biennale. Much of this work developed from Wilson’s observation that numerous Venetian history paintings contained black figures, though he had difficulty locating them in written histories. Wilson began a relationship with the Murano glass company, located on the Venetian island of the same name, and created chandeliers and mirrors in a traditional Venetian style embellished with black glass.
Wilson’s body of work encompasses sculpture, painting, photography, collage, printmaking, and installation. He is internationally lauded for his conceptual practice that subverts perception, revealing the undercurrents of historical discourse, ownership, and privilege normalized by institutional practices.
“I trust the visual to communicate my ideas. I try to unlock the meaning of objects by juxtaposing and eliciting a conversation between them that creates an unexpected, but essential, thought.”
Awards / Residencies
Wilson received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award (1999) and the Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (2003).
He represented the United States at the Cairo Bienniale (1992) and Venice Biennale (2003).
He is the Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Object, Exhibition, and Knowledge at Skidmore College.