Fred Wilson: Beauty & Ugliness


Filmed in 2004, Fred Wilson discusses how beauty and ugliness together create meaning. For his installation “Speak of Me as I Am” at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003), Wilson arranged “blackamoors”—decorative sculptures common in Venice—throughout the American Pavilion. In doing so, he called attention to how these beautiful objects depict Africans in servitude. Also shown in this film is Wilson’s piece “Cabinetmaking, 1820–1960” (1992)—ornate nineteenth-century chairs juxtaposed with a whipping post—installed at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2004.

Appropriating curatorial methods and strategies, Fred Wilson creates new contexts for the display of art and artifacts found in museum collections, along with wall labels, sound, lighting, and non-traditional pairings of objects. His sculptures and installations lead viewers to recognize that changes in context create changes in meaning, and thereby shape interpretations of historical truth and artistic value.

Cite this page as: Art21, "Fred Wilson: Beauty & Ugliness," in Smarthistory, August 27, 2021, accessed October 16, 2021, https://smarthistory.org/fred-wilson-beauty-ugliness/.