Fred Wilson

Correia, Alice (2011) Fred Wilson. Third Text, 25 (5). pp. 639-644. ISSN 0952-8822

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Fred Wilson came to prominence in 1992 with his exhibition ‘Mining the Museum’ at the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, USA, in which he intervened in and challenged the historical representation and narrative (or lack thereof) of black people within the museum’s displays. One of a number of black American artists who came to prominence in the 1990s, including Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker and Kerry James Marshall, Wilson, like his contemporaries, explores optical and conceptual understandings of blackness. Revealing hidden histories by inserting and arranging objects from museum archives in their public displays, as well as installing collected objects and displaying his own artworks in gallery spaces, Wilson invites audiences and curators to consider how black people have been racialised, othered and often excluded from institutional narratives of history and art. For his first UK solo exhibition Wilson has presented a selection of artworks made Downloaded by [University of Sussex Library] at 05:37 25 June 2012 since 1993, and blackness – its visibility or invisibility, its symbolic meaning and who is defined by the term – is the driving concern of the show. The first work visitors encounter when walking into the Karsten Shubert Gallery is Regina Atra (meaning ‘Black Queen’, 2006), a replica of the Diamond Diadem crown. Originally created for George IV in 1821 (made in 1820 for the 1821 coronation), it is worn by the Queen when she is travelling to and from the state opening of Parliament. However, the vital difference between Wilson’s crown and the original is that his version is made from black diamonds mounted in a matt-grey silver setting. Placed on a white cushion, within a locked light wood cabinet, the black crown gently rotates, the motion causing the diamonds to sparkle. It was perhaps a lucky coincidence that the opening of Wilson’s exhibition coincided with the preparations for the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. London was bedecked with Union flags and royal insignia seeped into the city’s visual make-up. As such, the presence of a black crown was a striking object; what if Kate had been black? Could there ever be a black British monarch? Does the monarchy really represent Britain in its cultural diversity? In 2007, Regina Atra was included in the Victoria and Albert museum’s exhibition ‘Uncomfortable Truths’, which marked the bicentenary of the parliamentary abolition of the British slave trade. In the context of the V&A exhibition, Regina Atra critiqued sociopolitical hierarchies founded upon exploitation, explicitly proposing that the wealth of the British Empire was achieved at the expense of millions of black people who were forced into slavery. However, in Karsten Schubert’s white space, the crown loses some of that direct specificity and becomes a more generalised meditation on power, authority and blackness. In this instance liberation from the museum context allows for alternative overlapping readings: the black diamonds and pearls glisten, aligning blackness with luminosity and beauty. Moving away from narratives of colonial power, the crown becomes a meditation on the desirability of blackness. Just as Ligon has playfully created ‘negro sunshine’ in his black neon works, so Wilson demonstrates radiant blackness.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Art History
Depositing User: Alice Correia
Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2012 12:39
Last Modified: 25 Jun 2012 12:40
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