Meghan Stockdale, Audience Research Associate, has been an admirer of the work of Fred Wilson for several years. She shares with us in this guest blog Q&A why she is so enthusiastic about his work and why you shouldn’t miss seeing Fred Wilson: Works 2004-2011 while it is in Cleveland.Installation photograph from the exhibition Fred Wilson: Works 2004-2011 at The Cleveland Museum of Art
Q1: When did you first encounter the work of Fred Wilson?
I first heard about Fred Wilson’s work from my drawing professor in college Todd McGrain. He was trying to inspire us to think critically about the world. Young and wonderfully-naive art students tend to have a difficult time understanding the difference between making art about something important and making art because something is important. I was definitely one of those students. Todd stressed that in order to really make anything of substance we had to have an open, yet discerning mind. It was then that he told us about Wilson’s installation from the 1990s at the Baltimore Historical Society, Mining the Museum,  and my studio practice was forever changed. Honestly, I think Fred Wilson is one of the first conceptual artists who I connected with on both an emotional and cerebral level.
Q2: What intrigued/intrigues you about this artist? Q3: What are your thoughts of the work on view in this current exhibition? What do the works on view make you think about? In what ways do you connect to them?
I think what excites me most about Fred Wilson’s work is the way it relates back to art museums and blue-chip galleries experiences in general. He reminds us that museums don’t collect and exhibit “things.” They collect objects with meanings, emotions, and experiences associated with them. When I walk into the museum’s installation of his work, I don’t feel like I am looking at an array of objects, I’m seeing a story. I’m feeling a story, their story. Wilson’s presence as the artist or curator of the installation reminds me only of the presence that all museums and galleries have when they exhibit art. There is always a point of view deciding and directing what the viewer ultimately has access to. Objects can have multiple meanings and context really is everything.
At its core, Wilson’s work forces the viewer to think carefully about context and the nature of museums. How do we talk about our past in a public sphere? What are we ashamed of as a society? How should “sensitive” topics like racism be treated in public educational institutions? How do we collectively understand something and does this match with my unique world view? Wilson subtly, yet forcefully insists we face these types of questions head on.
I feel that one of the greatest strengths of CMA’s installation is that it truly begs the viewer to slow down, look again, and think. I’ll admit that conceptual art can be confusing for many visitors and no one likes the sneaky feeling that they don’t understand something or, even worse, are not getting the joke.
I think sometimes, especially in the context of museums, people can almost feel afraid to attribute their own meaning or understanding to an art instillation. I like how the very nature of Wilson’s work creates a safe space for this to happen.
Q4: Why do you think people should come see the exhibition?
One of my absolute favorite Fred Wilson quotes: “The experience of art is a personal one. It can be ruined by well-meaning translations.” Wilson has given our city the chance to experience his art and think for ourselves about a racially-charged and undeniably significant topic… while questioning the museum experience.
As an artist and audience researcher completely obsessed with museum experiences, I couldn’t be more thrilled. Wilson’s work has most certainly evolved since the Mining the Museum piece that I first fell in love with, but it has not diminished in its power to facilitate reflection. To say the least, viewing an installation by Fred Wilson is enlightening, empowering, and an opportunity not to be missed.