Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1954, and lives and works in New York. He received a BFA from Purchase College, State University of 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: “I get everything that satisfies my soul from bringing together objects that are in the world, manipulating them, working with spatial arrangements, and having things presented in the way I want to see them.” 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. While appropriating curatorial methods and strategies, Wilson maintains his subjective view of the museum environment and the works he presents. 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. In his groundbreaking intervention, Mining the Museum (1992), Wilson transformed the Maryland Historical Society’s collection to highlight the history of slavery in America. For the 2003 Venice Biennale, Wilson created a mixed-media installation of many parts—focusing on Africans in Venice and issues and representations of blacks and whites—which included a suite of black glass sculptures; a black-and-white tiled room, with wall graffiti culled from texts of African-American slave narratives; and a video installation of “Othello,” screened backwards.

Wilson received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award (1999) and the Larry Aldrich Foundation Award (2003). He is the Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Object, Exhibition, and Knowledge at Skidmore College. Fred Wilson represented the United States at the Cairo Bienniale (1992) and Venice Biennale.

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Teaching with Contemporary Art

Artist as Archivist

When most of my students come to me, their understanding of art has been formed to fit a homogenized construct of how art manifests in the world. Often, they have yet to learn that art could look like something other than a painting on a traditional canvas or a sculpture carved in marble. My job […]

Teaching with Contemporary Art

The Power of Juxtaposition

Educator in Residence and Art21 Educators alumnus Erica Richard explores the soft power of juxtaposition through Fred Wilson’s “The Way The Moon’s In Love With The Dark” (2017).

Teaching with Contemporary Art

The Power of Words

Educator-in-Residence Jeannine Bardo shares her unit plan on language, in which students investigate the power of text through art.


Beauty & Memory

Fred Wilson discusses the power of beauty, and the conceptual matrices behind each of his works.


Museums and Collections

Fred Wilson discusses his unusual approach to museum installations, and his experiences working in museums around the world.