Charles Gaines (artist)

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Charles Gaines

Charles Gaines (born 1944) is an American artist whose work interrogates the discourse of aesthetics, politics, and philosophy. Taking the form of drawings, photographic series and video installations, the work consistently involves the use of systems, predominantly in the form of the grid, often in combination with photography. His work is rooted in Conceptual Art – in dialogue with artists such as Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner and Mel Bochner – and Gaines is committed to its tenets of engaging cognition and language. As one of the only African-American conceptual artists working in the 1970s, a time when political expressionism was a prevailing concern among African-American artists, Gaines was an outlier in his pursuit of abstraction and non-didactic approach to race and politics.[1] There is a strong musical thread running through much of Gaines' work, evident in his repeated use of musical scores[2] as well in his engagement with the idea of indeterminacy, as similar to John Cage and Sol LeWitt.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Gaines was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Raised in Newark, New Jersey, he attended Newark Arts High School and received a BA from Jersey City State College in 1966.[4] He earned his MFA in 1967 as the first African American to be accepted into the MFA program at the School of Art and Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology. From 1967 to 1990 he was a professor of art at California State University Fresno. Since 1989, he has been a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, influencing many young artists who studied with him, among them Edgar Arceneaux, Sadie Barnette, Andrea Bowers, Mark Bradford, Sam Durant, Rodney McMillian, and Laura Owens.[5] In 2008 Gaines taught at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.


In Motion: Trisha Brown Dance (1981), Gaines photographed postmodern dancer Trisha Brown performing the piece Son of Gone Fishin'. Numbering the spaces in a grid that correspond with the body in motion, and overlaying another grid drawing for each image in the series, Gaines seeks to transcribe the moving body in a way that the photograph cannot. In doing so, he also creates an erasure of the body's distinguishing contours – aligning with Trisha Brown's embrace of structures that obscure themselves.[6] With the series Walnut Tree Orchard, Charles Gaines started working with photographs in his artworks in addition to mathematical formulas, continuing the use of grid paper.[7]

  • Explosions
  • History of Stars
  • Shadows
  • Walnut Tree Orchard (1975-2014)
  • String Theory
  • Manifestos
  • Sound Text (2015)

In addition to working on his art, Gaines has been serving on the advisory board of the Hauser & Wirth Institute since 2018.[8]


After his first New York City exhibition at Cinque Gallery[9][10] in 1972, Charles Gaines was included in the 1975 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. In the 1980s, Charles Gaines was represented by and had solo exhibitions at Leo Castelli Gallery and John Weber Gallery[11] in New York. He has shown at Margo Leavin Gallery in Los Angeles,[12] Young Hoffman in Chicago, Richard Heller Gallery in San Francisco, and Galerie Lavignes-Bastille in Paris, among others. In 2006 Gaines began to exhibit with Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and in 2014 with Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

During the 1970s, he participated in a community art space called Communications Village operated by printmaker Benjamin Leroy Wigfall in Kingston, NY. Andrews made prints with the help of printer assistants who had been taught printmaking by Wigfall, and he exhibited there.[13]

Most recently, he was included in 56th Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor in 2015. His work has been included in other major group exhibitions, including the 2007 Venice Biennale, "Blues for Smoke" (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012) and Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960 – 1980, curated by Kellie Jones at the Hammer Museum and Under the Big Black Sun: 1974–1981, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles which was curated by Paul Schimmel as part of the 2011 Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative, Gaines was featured in two prominent Los Angeles exhibitions:

In 2012 the Pomona College Museum of Art and the Pitzer Art Gallery in Claremont, CA, exhibited In The Shadow of Numbers, Charles Gaines Selected Works from 1975 to 2012[14] which involved a collaborative musical performance with Terry Adkins. Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974–1999,[15] the artist's first survey exhibition, was organized by The Studio Museum in Harlem in July 2014.

In 2019 the SculptureCenter, Queens, New York, exhibited Searching the Sky for Rain from September 16, 2019 – December 16, 2019 which is a collaboration of many artist such as Carmen Argote, Tony Cokes, Rafael Domenech, Mandy El-Sayegh, ektor garcia, Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon, Tishan Hsu, Rindon Johnson, Becket MWN, Shahryar Nashat, Michael Queenland, Johanna Unzueta, Jala Wahid, Eric Wesley, Riet Wijnen and Charles Gaines included. The Searching the Sky for Rain exhibit has only two of his works within them. The one placed in the ground floor was the “Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series II: Tree #7" (made in 2016) Laurel and the second placed in the lower level being "Face 1: Identity Politics, #10, Edward Said" (made in 2018).[16]

From November 16, 2023 to March 17 2024, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami exhibited a survey of his work, including the recreation of some of his major pieces for the context of the exhibition.[17]


Gaines received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grant in 1977. He received a California Community Foundation (CCF)[18] in 2011, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013. Gaines received the CalArts REDCAT Award in 2018[19] and was awarded the 60th annual Edward MacDowell Medal in 2019.[20] In 2023, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from his alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology.[21]


Gaines has written a number of academic texts including: Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism[22] (UC Irvine, 1993); Art, Post History and the Paradox of Black Pluralism, Merge, 12 (2004); "Reconsidering Metaphor/Metonymy: Art and the Suppression of Thought", Art Lies, Issue 64 (Winter/2009); "Ben Patterson: The History of Gray Matter From the Avant-garde to the Postmodern", a catalog essay for an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (November 2010); and Kerry James Marshall, London: Phaidon Press, 2017.

Solo exhibitions[edit]


Gridwork: Palm Canyon Watercolors Galerie Max Hetzler, Paris


New Work: Charles Gaines San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

Dia Beacon, Beacon

Multiples of Nature, Trees and Faces Hauser & Wirth, London


Drawings, Hauser & Wirth, St. Moritz


Palm Trees and Other Works, Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles


Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

Faces 1: Identity Politics, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Group exhibitions[edit]


Forest Through the Trees, Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis

Lifes, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (catalogue)


Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, New Museum, New York (catalogue)

Kathmandu Triennial, Kathmandu

Blood, Sweat, and Tears, UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum, Austin

Lives that Bind: a restorative justice installation, Santa Monica City Hall East, Santa Monica


Lives that Bind: a restorative justice installation City Services Building Art Bank, Santa Monica

Drawing 2020 Gladstone Gallery, New York

To Form a More Perfect Union Hauser & Wirth, New York

Artists for New York Hauser & Wirth, New York

Garden of Six Seasons Para Site, Hong Kong


Words, Alexander Berggruen, New York

Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore

Searching the Sky for Rain, SculptureCenter, New York

Process and Pattern, Wisch Family Gallery, Anderson Collection at Stanford University, Stanford

Trees, Fondation Cartier pour l´art contemporain, Paris

The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor

About Things Loved: Blackness and Belonging, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley

California Artists in the Marciano Collection, Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles

Mapping Black Identities, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis

Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner / Giuffrida Collection, Smart Museum of Art, Chicago

Selected Public Collections[edit]

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas

Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, California

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC

Lentos Museum, Linz

Marciano Collection, Los Angeles

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN ("Explosion #25", 2008)[23]

Art market[edit]

Gaines is represented by Hauser & Wirth (since 2018) and Galerie Max Hetzler.[24] He previously worked with Paula Cooper Gallery and Vielmetter Los Angeles.[25]


  1. ^ Gaines, Charles (December 14, 2011). "Interview with Charles Gaines by Leila Hamidi". Notes on Looking: Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles. Archived from the original on August 10, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2012. One of the problems I had is that black political expressionism became a very dominant idea among black artists in the late 60s and early 70s and I did abstract work and there was no place for me.
  2. ^ Phillips, Rowan Ricardo (September 24, 2013). "Charles Gaines". Artforum International.
  3. ^ "Charles Gaines: Multiples of Nature, Trees and Faces; Hardeep Sahota: Bhangra Lexicon – review". the Guardian. February 7, 2021. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
  4. ^ "Conceptual artist Charles Gaines to receive 60th Edward MacDowell Medal", Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, April 9, 2019. Accessed November 20, 2019. "Gaines, who was born in 1944 in Charleston, South Carolina, and went to Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey, did undergraduate work at Jersey City State College."
  5. ^ "Charles Gaines | Faculty/Staff Directory". Retrieved December 8, 2016.
  6. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (October 19, 1981). "Dance: Trisha Brown and Her Artist Friends". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Schwabsky, Barry. "Charles Gaines." Artforum International, Nov. 2014, p. 279. Gale OneFile: Contemporary Women's Issues. Accessed 6 Dec. 2019. – via Gale (publisher) (subscription required)
  8. ^ Alex Greenberger (November 27, 2018), Aiming to Preserve Artists’ Legacies, Hauser & Wirth Founds Nonprofit Institute for Archival Projects ARTnews.
  9. ^ "Cinque gallery records, 1959–2010". Archives of American Art. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  10. ^ "Recent Paintings of Charles Gaines as Cinque Gallery". New York Amsterdam News. 1 (7). April 1972.
  11. ^ Smith, Roberta. "John Weber, 75, Contemporary-Art Dealer, Is Dead". New York Times online. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  12. ^ Holte, Michael Ned (October 2011). "Differential Equations". Artforum International. 50 (2).
  13. ^ Fendrich, Laurie (October 20, 2022). "When an artist becomes a community: The life and work of Benjamin Wigfall". Two Coats of Paint. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  14. ^ "In the Shadow of Numbers". Pomona College Museum of Art. Archived from the original on November 15, 2014. Retrieved September 13, 2014.
  15. ^ "Charles Gaines – The Studio Museum in Harlem".
  16. ^ "Searching the Sky for Rain". Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  17. ^ "Charles Gaines: 1992–2023". Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Retrieved March 9, 2024.
  18. ^ "Charles Gaines". California Community Foundation. 2016. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016.
  19. ^ rgates (July 21, 2011). "REDCAT Gala". Retrieved August 20, 2019.
  20. ^ Cohn, Gabe (April 7, 2019). "Charles Gaines to Receive MacDowell Colony Honors". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "RIT to confer five honorary degrees at May 12 commencement ceremony". Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  22. ^ The Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism. Irvine, California: Irvine Fine Arts Gallery University of California. 1993. pp. 11, 12, 56. ISBN 1884355005.
  23. ^ "Explosion #25 Charles Gaines".
  24. ^ Andy Battaglia (August 11, 2018), Charles Gaines Is Now Represented by Hauser & Wirth ARTnews.
  25. ^ Andy Battaglia (August 11, 2018), Charles Gaines Is Now Represented by Hauser & Wirth ARTnews.

External links[edit]