On Tuesday, Aug. 30, Oberlin's Allen Memorial Art Museum debuted both a new exhibition and site-specific installation by world renowned conceptual artist Fred Wilson. Locals may remember Wilson from his solo exhibition, Fred Wilson: Works 2004-2011, at the Cleveland Museum of Art from December 2012 to May 2013. Returning to Northeast Ohio, Wilson draws inspiration for his new work directly from Oberlin's history.
Born in the Bronx in 1954, Wilson earned his BFA from SUNY Purchase College. Wilson has represented the U.S. at both the Venice Biennale (2003) and the Cairo Biennale (1992). A 1999 recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's "genius" grant, Wilson is best known for his re-interpretation and re-contextualization of museum collections. Challenging assumptions of culture, history and display practices, Wilson has been encouraging viewers to reconsider how we see and what we think we know since his innovative 1992 exhibition Mining the Museum at the Maryland Historical Society. Simply put, by altering objects' context, Wilson changes their meaning.
At Oberlin, the New York based artist presents a new perspective on the history of Oberlin College and the Allen Memorial Art Museum's collection with a site-specific installation in the museum's King Sculpture Court. Drawing objects from the Allen Memorial Art Museum's 14,000 piece collection and other local collections, Wilson will juxtapose objects and concepts from Oberlin's 183-year history. Wilson's Wildfire Test Pit returns the King Sculpture Court to its origins as a space for displaying classical sculpture.
"We are delighted to collaborate with Fred Wilson and to present his insightful perspective on the Allen Memorial Art Museum's collection and Oberlin history," says Denise Birkhofer, the museum's curator of modern and contemporary art. "The Allen is particularly excited to be the first museum to organize two simultaneous exhibitions by Wilson, juxtaposing his fabricated artworks with his installation-based practice."
Wilson's primary inspiration for Wildfire Pit Test is renowned artist Edmonia Lewis, who began her art studies at Oberlin College. After a controversial incident with "spiked" wine, Lewis was put on trial and beaten by unknown local townspeople at a time during the Civil War when Oberlin wasn't as progressive as its college. Although ultimately acquitted, the incident continued to plague Lewis, and about a year later, she was accused of stealing art supplies from the college. Although she was once again acquitted, she was forbidden from registering for her last term, and was never able to graduate. She moved to Boston, and later found international success in Europe.
Simultaneously, the museum's Ellen Johnson Gallery showcases works created by Wilson to similarly encourage viewers to rethink assumptions of traditional historical narratives and display practices. Black to the Powers of Ten includes work created from 2003 to 2014. Exploring concepts of race, memory, meaning and time, the exhibition includes glass works, paintings, sculpture, prints and video.
On Thursday, Sept. 8, Wilson will be on hand for an opening reception for the museum's fall exhibitions. Wilson will be discussing his work informally during the reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Later this fall, Wilson returns to Oberlin for a more formal presentation on his recent work and influences, as well as his previous installations at other museums and cultural institutions. Wilson's talk begins at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, at The Hotel at Oberlin (10 E. College St.), and a reception will follow at the museum, which will remain open until 8 p.m.
Wilson's work remains on view at the Allen Memorial Art Museum through June 12, 2017. Regular business hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. (Closed Mondays and major holidays.)Admission is free and open to the public.
Additionally, the AMAM's current exhibitions include Time Well Spent: Art and Temporality (in the Ripin Print Gallery through Dec. 23), Recent Acquisitions (in the West Ambulatory through Dec. 23), (Anti) Corporeality: Reclaiming and Re-presenting the Black Body (in the Education Hallway through Dec. 23), Conversations: Past and Present in Asia and America (in the John N. Stern Gallery through May 21, 2017) and Marking Time: Seasonal Imagery in Japanese Prints (in the South Ambulatory through May 21, 2017).
The Allen Memorial Art Museum was founded in 1917, primarily as a teaching museum, serving as a resource for students, faculty and staff at Oberlin, as well as the surrounding community. Five years ago, the museum underwent two years' worth of renovations, which received USGBC LEED Gold certification. The museum is known for its art rental program, dating back to the 1940s. Each semester, students camp out in front of the north gate of the museum for first selection of original prints and paintings by renowned artists such as Dali, Warhol and Picasso. For $5 each semester, students can hang these pieces of art history on their dorm room walls.