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Fred Wilson's artworks explore museum practices within a museum setting
To Die Upon a Kiss, 2011. Fred Wilson (American, born 1954). Murano glass; 177.8 x 174 x 174 cm. The Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund 2012.115 ©Fred Wilson, courtesy of Pace Gallery. Photo by: G.R. Christmas / Courtesy Pace Gallery.
CLEVELAND, OH.- On view through May 5, 2013, three recent works and a large-scale installation of 35 flag paintings by American artist Fred Wilson are on view in the Betty T. and David M. Schneider Gallery (East Wing Glass Box Gallery). Included in the exhibition is a recently acquired artwork by the museum, To Die Upon a Kiss, (2011), a Murano glass chandelier. The objects included in the museum‘s installation give an overview of Wilson’s influential and diverse practice and explore the question that has been fundamental to his art making: How is it possible to pose critical questions about how museums work from within a museum itself?

“This exhibition gives a representative overview of the work of an artist who has not only influenced art and cultural history but also museum practices in very deep ways” stated Reto Thüring, the museum’s assistant curator of contemporary art. “It offers an opportunity to engage the public in meaningful conversations, and encourages reflection on the work done by modern day museums and cultural institutions.”

Through his work, often executed in collaboration with museums and using their institutional vocabularies, concepts and methods, Wilson attempts to confront the traditional behaviors and discussions shaped by these very institutions. Wilson’s artwork asks the viewer to question the often unacknowledged biases of cultural institutions and their displays, examining how they shape the interpretation of history and determine artistic value.

The Cleveland Museum of Art presents the following artworks by Fred Wilson:

The Mete of the Muse, 2004–7. Bronze with black patina and bronze with white paint; overall: 160 x 106.7 x 66.4 cm. Edition of 5 + 2 APs. © Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo: Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery
The Mete of the Muse (2004–7). This is a work consisting of a black patinated pseudo-Egyptian statue and a white statue, modeled after Greek classical sculpture. The work highlights the opposite forms and represents traditional concepts about history. By placing them in this context, Wilson exploits the combination of (apparent) contradictions that point out the blind spots in a hegemonic understanding of culture and history.

To Die Upon a Kiss, 2011. Murano glass; 177.8 x 174 x 174 cm. Edition of 6 + 2 APs. © Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo: G. R. Christmas, courtesy Pace Gallery
To Die Upon a Kiss (2011). Recently acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art, the chandelier, made of Murano glass, transitions from luminosity and transparency at the top to total blackness on the underside. The work refers to the presence of African culture in the history of Venice and speaks to the realization that culture is almost never homogenous and that cultural history seldom takes a linear course.

Ota Benga (detail), 2008. Bronze with silk scarf and wood base; 151.1 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm. Edition of 5 + 2APs. © Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo: courtesy Pace Gallery
Ota Benga (2008). In 1904, during the St. Louis World’s Fair, busts of representatives of different ethnic groups were produced, and one depicted Ota Benga, a 23-year-old “pygmy” from the Belgian Congo (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo). He and the other representatives of “primitive” cultures were contrasted with the (white) heroes of technological progress as an expression of Western superiority. In 1916, after a life filled with significant hardship, Ota Benga committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart. In this work, Wilson goes beyond retelling the story of the horrific treatment of an African man, calling attention to how museums and other cultural institutions not only display but also contribute to the discussion of conventional ideas and paradigms.

Untitled (Antigua-Barbuda), 2009. Acrylic on canvas; 68.6 x 101.6 cm. Edition of 3. © Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery. Photo: Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy Pace Gallery
Untitled (Flags), (2009). This installation consists of 35 flags of the African and African diaspora nations and is completely colorless, in that only outlines of the flag designs are drawn in black on the bare canvas. The empty spaces indicated by the missing colors challenge viewers to consider their own perceptions.

Fred Wilson (born 1954) is an alumnus of the Music & Art High School in New York and received a BFA from SUNY Purchase in 1976. Wilson was a recipient of the 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.

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