Fred Wilson (artist)
Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader, published in 2011.
The Bronx, New York
|Training||BFA, SUNY Purchase|
|Awards||MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant
Larry Aldrich Foundation Award
Conceptual artist Fred Wilson (born 1954 in The Bronx) describes himself as of "African, Native American, European and Amerindian" descent. 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. In May 2008, it was announced Mr. Wilson will become a Whitney Museum trustee replacing Chuck Close. Fred Wilson is represented by The Pace Gallery in New York.
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. 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.”
An installation artist and political activist, Wilson's subject is social justice and his medium is museology. In the 1970s, he worked as a free-lance museum educator for the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Crafts Museum. Beginning in the late 1980s, Wilson used his insider skills to create a series of "mock museums" that address how museums consciously or unwittingly reinforce racist beliefs and behaviors.
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. 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 (UMBC), 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), The Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, Chicago Cultural Center, Studio Museum in Harlem. 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.
In 2007 Fred Wilson was invited to be a part of the Indianapolis, Indiana Cultural trail. Wilson proposed to redo the sole African American depicted in the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis. The African American depicts a recently freed slave reaching up to lady liberty. Wilson planned on using a scan of the African American to make an entirely new work, which would give the African American a more proud and strong posture, holding a flag composed of all of the African countries' flags. The proposed work was entitled, E Pluribus Unum, and was met with much controversy, eventually leading to the project's rejection.
2011 saw the publication of Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader by Ridinghouse, edited by Doro Globus. An anthology of critical texts about and interviews with the artist, this publication focuses on the artist's pivotal exhibitions and projects, and includes a wide range of significant texts that mark the critical reception of Wilson's work over the last two decades.
Major themes 
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. Wilson's juxtaposition of evocative objects forces the viewer to question the biases and limitations of cultural institutions and how they have shaped the interpretation of historical truth, artistic value, and the language of display.
For example, 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. 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."
Selected exhibitions 
- 2003 American Representative, United States Pavilion, 50th Venice Biennale, Italy
- 2001 "Fred Wilson, Objects and Installations 1979-2000," Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
- 1995 Collectibles, Metro Pictures Gallery, New York, NY
- 1994 Insight: In Site: In Sight: Incite - Memory, Artist and the Community: Fred Wilson, South Eastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem, NC
- 1993 "The Spiral of Art History," Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
- 1992-3 "Mining the Museum: An Installation by Fred Wilson," The Contemporary & Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
- 1992 "Panta Rhei: A Gallery of Ancient Classical Art," Metro Pictures, New York, NY
- 1991 Primitivism: High & Low, Metro Pictures, New York, NY
- Rena Bransten Gallery articles
- Rena Bransten Gallery biography
- Vogel, Carol. "Lauder Steps Down as Whitney Museum Chairman." The New York Times. 27 May 2008. 
- PBS art:21 biography
- Stein, Judith E. "Sins of Omission." Art in America. October 1993. pp. 110-115.
- "Fred Wilson: A Critical Reader". Ridinghouse.
- The Shock of the Familiar, New York Metro, 2003
- The Pace Gallery
- Biography, interviews, essays, artwork images and video clips from PBS series Art:21 -- Art in the 21st-century - Season 3 (2005).
- Whitney brief from New York Times