Exhibition room 3. Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1954, and lives and works in New York. Commenting on his unorthodox artistic practice, Wilson has said that, although he studied art, he no longer has a strong desire to make things with his hands [...]. Thus, Wilson creates new exhibition contexts for the display of art and artifacts found in museum collections—including wall labels, sound, lighting, and non-traditional pairings of objects. His installations lead viewers to recognize that changes in context create changes in meaning[...] He questions (and forces the viewer to question) how curators shape interpretations of historical truth, artistic value, and the language of display—and what kinds of biases our cultural institutions express. [...]

Source: PBS Art 21 www.pbs.org/art21/artists/fred-wilson

To attack Picasso’s appropriation of African art, Wilson used appropriation himself, presenting a full-size photographic reproduction of Picasso’s painting. On top of the work’s most explicit rendition of an African mask, Wilson placed an actual mask of the Kifwebe people, whose shape and color highlight its differences from Picasso’s simulation. As viewers examine the Kifwebe mask, they are drawn to its eye slits, which frame a monitor showing a video Wilson made of himself—an African-American—and other non-Europeans, including Africans, reflecting on the ways in which European modernism is dependent on African cultural motifs, and suggesting that the full story of modernism has yet to be told.

The confrontation Wilson stages between the Demoiselles and contemporary African cultures aggressively contests the deracination of African art that was common in the practice of early-twentieth-century European artists [...]. By asking “whose rules” now apply, Wilson constructed a message of empowerment for the people of non-Western cultures whom we see through the eyes of the Kifwebe mask.

Source: exhibition catalogue for “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” Michael FitzGerald