Pace Gallery presents Fred Wilson: Afro Kismet, an exhibition featuring the artist’s most recent body of work originally produced for the 15th Istanbul Biennial in the Fall of 2017 and recently exhibited at Pace in London in Spring 2018.
For the exhibition, Pace has published a catalogue that includes an introduction by artist duo and Istanbul Biennial curators Elmgreen & Dragset, an essay by the Biennial’s Director Bige Örer, and an interview with the artist conducted by American novelist, playwright and essayist Darryl Pinckney.
The genesis of Fred Wilson: Afro Kismet stretches back to 1992 when Wilson presented Re:Claiming Egypt, at the 4th International Cairo Biennale and to 2003 when Wilson represented the United States at the 50th Venice Biennale with Speak of Me as I Am. Even before being invited by Elmgreen & Dragset to participate in the 15th Istanbul Biennial in 2017, Wilson’s interest in the city had already piqued; he conceived of the city as the third leg in a historically and culturally connected eastern Mediterranean triangle which also included Cairo and Venice. Through his research, Wilson developed a conceptual basis for the Istanbul project in which he contextualized pieces from the city’s Pera Museum’s Orientalist collection with new and existing works of his own. “My work is about an issue which is both personal and universal. […] A new meaning emerges from the coming together of art and history […] bring[ing] a fresh perspective to things we are used to seeing in museums. You can say that I tell a history which is not adequately discussed…” Fred Wilson, 2017.
For Pace in New York, Wilson will reconfigure the installation, which includes two chandeliers, two monumental Iznik tile walls, four black glass drip works, and a globe sculpture, as well as installations and vitrine pieces that gather cowrie shells, engravings, photographs, a Yoruba mask, and furniture, among other objects the artist discovered in his frequent trips to Istanbul throughout 2016 and 2017. Presented together, these works will constitute the third unique installation of Fred Wilson: Afro Kismet. In addition to the installation, Pace will present a selection of the artist’s Murano glass works and drip sculptures in the adjacent gallery.
Since the 2003 Venice Biennale, Wilson’s Murano glass chandeliers, with their evolving shifts in scale, color, and complexity, have become vehicles for the artist’s meditations on blackness, death, and beauty. The new chandeliers, included in the exhibition, combine black Murano glass with traditional metal and glass elements of Ottoman chandeliers, thus fusing two histories of craftsmanship and symbolizing the complex relationship between the Venetian and Ottoman Empires.
Throughout the exhibition, Wilson utilizes alluring materials—from richly colored tiled walls to luminescent glass—to represent and investigate the long-ignored presence of communities of African descent in Turkey. In the two Iznik tile walls, the Arabic calligraphy translates in one case to “Mother Africa” and in the other to “Black is Beautiful.” The new globe sculpture titled Trade Winds refers not to its original meaning related to weather patterns but to the tragic global trade in human beings. The juxtaposition of recent works by Wilson with works from the 19th century—including Orientalist paintings with African subjects by Rudolf Ernst, Alfred De Dreux, and William James Mueller—not only questions notions of universal knowledge and truth, but also sheds light on a history not thoroughly examined. By combining contemporary objects and museum-quality artifacts, Wilson challenges the assumptions of exhibition methodology and art historical scholarship. As Wilson stated in an interview with Julie Belcove in the Financial Times at the time of the London venue of Afro Kismet, “I also wanted to connect to the present in some way, because as much as I’m interested in the deep past, the Afro-Anatolians live in the present. They are part of the African diaspora.” (Belcove, Julie. “Fred Wilson: ‘As an Artist, I Don’t Have to Stick to the Script” Financial Times, 16 March 2018)