OBERLIN, Ohio — Artist Fred Wilson is known for working in two modes, broadly speaking. In one, he creates interventions in and rearrangements of the existing collections of arts institutions; in the other, he fabricates original works across a range of media. These two movements have long coexisted within the artist’s career, but never within the same institution, until now. In a nearly yearlong installation at the Allen Memorial Art Museum on Oberlin College’s campus, Wilson is showing a collection intervention, Wildfire Test Pit, side by side with a survey of original work, Black to the Powers of Ten.
The most direct and obvious link between the two exhibitions is the pair of statues that stands in the center of Powers of Ten. Titled “The Mete of the Muse” (2006), the work features a black sculpture and a white one, mimicking the composition and aesthetics of the statuary assembled for Wildfire. Here, the black body is an Egyptian god, and the white one is a European female form; the wall text characterizes them as “African figure” and “European figure,” respectively, though both were cast in bronze and finished with patina or paint. As in my previous analysis of Wildfire Test Pit, it’s useful to acknowledge that, in Wilson’s work, “black” and “white” have racial as well as chromatic associations. This fits with a major theme of Wilson’s oeuvre, which is showcased exhaustively in Black to the Powers of Ten: an examination of black identity and labor.