Grant surpasses artist's dreams

Enrichment: Installation artist Fred Wilson's `Mining the Museum' brings `gold' from a MacArthur Foundation grant.

July 07, 1999|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

Well, of course, New York installation artist Fred Wilson is delighted to be one of the 32 recipients of this year's John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation grants.

You could even say thrilled, stunned, happy, excited and profoundly and forever grateful. "The whole thing is a blur," he says, still sounding shocked even though the announcement came in late June.

Wilson, 44, is the artist whose 1992 exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society played a catalytic role in how museums view themselves. Called "Mining the Museum," the show was a collaboration between the historical society and Baltimore's Contemporary Museum.

In his work, Wilson often questions how art institutions represent (or fail to represent) racial and ethnic minorities. In "Mining the Museum," he juxtaposed items such as repousse silver vessels with slave shackles. In doing so, he eloquently made the point that by displaying only items that are aesthetically pleasing, museums often exclude the histories and artistic traditions of entire segments of society.

The artist was asleep in a San Francisco hotel room when the MacArthur Foundation called."They called me at 6 a.m. But they told me not to tell anyone. So there I was jumping up and down in a hotel room, and then I got tired so I went back to sleep," he says. "When I woke up I thought, `Was that a dream?' "

Wilson's current projects include:

* Developing "Seeing," an exhibition dealing with visual perception for the San Francisco Exploratorium, which is scheduled to open in 2002.

* Creating a public project for the University of California-San Francisco that examines issues of diversity.

* Completing a project for the first Liverpool (England) Biennial, which opens in September.

The artist's award comes to $315,000 paid out over five years, with no strings attached. So far, he is considering buying a computer and traveling to St. Vincent, the Carribean island from which some of his ancestors came. "Who knows how that will affect my work?" he says.

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