We are pleased to inaugurate our new global headquarters in New York with a monographic exhibition showcasing five of Fred Wilson's Murano glass chandeliers. Installed hanging from the 7th floor gallery's 19-foot ceiling, these works span fifteen years and are being shown as a group for the first time.
Speak of Me as I Am: Chandelier Mori, Wilson’s first chandelier, was made in 2003 when he represented the United States at the 50th Venice Biennale. Since then, Wilson has continued to experiment with Murano glass design elements as his chandeliers have evolved over the years as vehicles for the artist’s meditations on blackness, beauty, and death. A catalogue illustrating all of Wilson’s chandeliers to date will be published in conjunction with the exhibition. An essay by American novelist, playwright, and essayist Darryl Pinckney will be included in the publication.
'As juxtaposition is central to my practice, it’s thrilling to see this many of my chandeliers together for the first time since I created and exhibited them, as it’s something I truly never expected to see. These are heavy, fragile, and complex beings that have taken their own shape and meaning over the years. Seeing them from a new perspective, I hope to discover much more about the nuances of the works, all the subtleties and differences. This exhibition provides a rare opportunity for me as an artist to reflect upon the journey thus far while inspiring me to think about what’s next.'–Fred Wilson
For Wilson’s exhibition, Speak of Me as I Am at the Venice Biennale, he investigated the history of Venice’s African population, fully immersing himself in the study of how Africans were depicted in 17th and 18th century Venetian paintings and decorative arts. Using phrases from Shakespeare’s Othello to title his first as well as most subsequent chandeliers, Wilson created Speak of Me as I Am: Chandelier Mori in Murano in the traditional Rezzonico style. Made in black glass, it is the first black chandelier ever to be created in the history of Venetian glassmaking. Wilson’s chandeliers utilise the seductive beauty of Venetian craftsmanship while simultaneously subverting assumptions of a homogenous European culture.
Continuing to expand on this body of work, Wilson made The Way the Moon’s in Love with the Dark for his installation Afro Kismet, which was exhibited at the Pera Museum in the Istanbul Biennial in 2017. Combining black Murano glass with traditional metal and glass elements of Ottoman chandeliers, this work underscores the centuries long and complicated relationship between Venice and Istanbul, two cultural crossroads whose expansive empires grew based on their strong and beneficial trading partnership. The title of the piece is a quote from the work of Alexander Pushkin, whose great grandfather was African and is believed to have passed through Istanbul before becoming part of the Imperial Household in Moscow and a general in the Russian Army.
Throughout his career, Wilson has challenged assumptions about race and museum display by masterfully juxtaposing and reframing artworks in opposition to simple objects. His work melds cultural symbols and unconventional materials, raising questions about erasure and exclusion in society. With the creation of these ornate sculptures, Wilson highlights the long-ignored presence of communities of African descent in Western culture. The chandeliers exemplify his practice–making something new while shedding light on a history that has been underrepresented.
Fred Wilson Chandeliers will be on view from September 14 through October 12, 2019 at 540 West 25th Street. Next year, Afro Kismet will be exhibited at the Gibbes Museum of Art opening May 5, 2020 in conjunction with the Spoleto Festival USA. Wilson has been invited to participate in Dak’Art, the biennial in Dakar, Senegal, also opening May 2020.
Press release courtesy Pace Gallery.