Untitled

b. 1954 NYC

Cigar Store Indians, Fred Wilson, Mining the Museum

Mining the Museum 1992 -3

An artist that cannot be ignored when talking about issues surrounding the validity of museum displays is Fred Wilson and particularly his momentous undertaking ‘Mining the Museum: An installation by Fred Wilson’ at the Maryland Historical Society in collaboration with The Contemporary.

 His critique and reworking of an existing museum collection had never before been so prominently embarked on; Wilson was offered free reign over the Maryland historical society collections and aimed to show “the power of objects to speak when the “laws” governing museum practices are expanded and the artificial boundaries museums build are removed.” 1 Through the deconstruction of the museum as a space Wilson aimed to create a place for continuing dialogue between cultures, moving away from the Eurocentric attitudes so often found within long standing collections that allows objects to be established on the basis of hierarchies, often leaving out entire histories of minority cultures.

Guarded View, Fred Wilson, Installation View

Guarded View provides a visual criticism of the invisible role of people from ethnic minorities in museums, Wilson commented

“The majority of museum guards...tend to be African American...Many of the museums on the East Coast pride themselves, and get...funds...for having such large minority employment. But actually all the employment is in the guards, and the fact that they’re in that level of the museum and not on the upper levels, affects the kind of artwork that’s displayed and the kind of visitor that comes through the door.” 2

 The piece consists of posed black mannequins dressed in security uniforms displayed on a small platform; this piece was later developed into a performance by Wilson. Invited by the staff of the museum to give a pre opening tour, he greeted them as himself, and then arranged to meet with the group elsewhere, during the short lapse of time Wilson changed into a guards uniform and waited at the designated space, not one member of the team recognised or approached him and it was only when he announced his presence and the purpose of the deception, that Guarded View’s point transpired and was fully understood.

To listen to an artist audio guide for Guarded View please click here

Picasso/Who Rules?, Fred Wilson, Installation view

Another section of the installation appropriated Picassos’ Les Demoiselle d’Avignon. Aware that Picasso had been inspired by ethnographic collections and tribal masks from ‘primitive’ cultures when making Les Demoiselle d’Avignon; Wilson adorned some of the nudes with tribal masks and when viewers peered through the cut out eyes they were met with the eyes of two Senegalese people and Wilson himself on a videotape asking questions such as “if my contemporary art is your traditional art, is my art your cliché?”3

Wilsons work at the Maryland Historical society was as much about exposing the Eurocentric structure of museums, as it was a healing process for all of those affected by their history being concealed. In a form of conclusion Wilson states

 “Museums are afraid of what they will bring to the surface and how people will feel about certain issues that are long buried. They keep it buried, as if it doesn’t exist, as though people aren’t feeling these things anyway, instead of opening that sore and cleaning it out so it can heal.”4

 

1. Wilson, Fred.  Mining the Museum: an installation. edited by Lisa G. Corrin; with contributions by Leslie King-Hammond and Ira Berlin. Baltimore: New York: Contemporary; New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1994. p.8

2. Wilson, Fred: Mining the Museum: an installation: edited by Lisa G. Corrin; with contributions by Leslie King-Hammond and Ira Berlin. Baltimore: New York: Contemporary; New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1994. p.9

3. Wilson, Fred: Mining the Museum: an installation: edited by Lisa G. Corrin; with contributions by Leslie King-Hammond and Ira Berlin. Baltimore: New York: Contemporary; New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1994. p.9

4. Wilson, Fred: Mining the Museum: an installation: edited by Lisa G. Corrin; with contributions by Leslie King-Hammond and Ira Berlin. Baltimore: New York: Contemporary; New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1994. p.34

 

Fred Wilson in Conversation

Fred Wilson in conversation at the Institute of Museum Ethics.

A Change of Heart - Fred Wilson’s impact on Museums

A lecture given by the artist at the V&A discussing the process behind Mining the Museum and how it has impacted on methods of curation within museums. to view please click here

Further Reading

Wilson, Fred: Mining the Museum: an installation: edited by Lisa G. Corrin; with contributions by Leslie King-Hammond and Ira Berlin. Baltimore: New York: Contemporary; New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton, 1994

Berger, Maurice; Wilson, Fred; González, Jennifer. Fred Wilson: objects and installations 1979-2000. Baltimore: Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 2001

Appiah, K. Anthony. Fred Wilson: a conversation with K. Anthony Appiah. New York: Pacewildenstein, 2006

González, Jennifer A. Subject to display: reframing race in contemporary installation art. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2008

Links

Fred Wilson’s website

http://www.fredwilsonindy.org/aboutartist.html

An Interview with Fred Wilson | Hood Museum of Art

http://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/exhibitions/fredwilson/fredwilsonpressr.html

Fred Wilson Collection at the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art

http://whitney.org/Collection/FredWilson/9784ad/Audio

Maryland Historical Society

http://www.mdhs.org

Images

In order of appearance

Fred Wilson portrait

http://nashermuseumblogs.org/?p=1064

Mining the Museum

http://whitney.org/Collection/FredWilson/9784ad/Audio

http://www.mdhs.org/digitalimage/installation-view-we-shared-our-knowledge-and-our-lives

http://www.mdhs.org/digitalimage/installation-view-pedestals-globe-and-busts

http://www.mdhs.org/digitalimage/installation-view-cigar-store-indians