OBERLIN, Ohio — It feels necessary, prior to delving into the particulars of Fred Wilson’s Wildfire Test Pit at Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum, to explicitly define the terms “black” and “white,” because they are about to be used a great deal. Like Wilson’s work, these terms are operating here on multiple levels, referring simultaneously to the literal color (or absence of color) of many of the pieces on display and their racial corollaries.
For the purposes of this review, when I say “white bodies,” I am denoting not only the palette of the plaster-cast figures that populate the sculpture court which serves as the staging ground for the show, but also that these figures suggest historically European bodies. When I mention “black bodies,” I’m not simply acknowledging that the predominantly wood and mixed-media figures juxtaposed with these plaster casts are dark in color; I’m referring to their association with traditional African art. Almost without exception in Wilson’s work, white and black bodies suggest a deeper, racialized meaning.