Wilson Mining the Museum .pdf



Nom original: Wilson-Mining-the-Museum.pdfTitre: Mining the Museum

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Jean Stein

Mining the Museum
Author(s): Fred Wilson and Howard Halle
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Grand Street, No. 44 (1993), pp. 151-172
Published by: Jean Stein
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25007622 .
Accessed: 14/01/2013 23:45
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FRED

Mining

WILSON

the

Museum

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"Mining theMuseum" is an exhibition selected and installed by
FredWilson. Wilson was invited by The Contemporary, Baltimore,
to create the exhibition using the archives and resources of the
Maryland Historical Society.

The exhibition, organized by The

Contemporary's curator, Lisa Corrin, was installed in the
Society's museum

inOctober 1992.

Wilson was responsible for all aspects of the exhibition,
including arrangement of works, labeling, wall colors, graphics,
film projections, and audio recordings. He was assisted by other
artists, community historians, volunteers, and the staffs of The
Contemporary and theMaryland Historical Society. The artworks
and artifacts were displayed ina succession

of rooms themati

cally arranged and differentiated by theirwall colors of gray,
green, red, and blue.

152

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Benjamin Banneker,
Harriet Tubman,
and Frederick Douglass
Empty pedestals

with names on labels

"TruthTrophy"
Industryawardgiven for
truthinadvertising
c. 1913

Henry Clay,
Napoleon Bonaparte,
and Andrew Jackson
Pedestals

153
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with busts

Cigar-Store Owner, Elizabeth
John Klein, and Bernard Faistenhamer

Portraits

of Unknown

Cigar-store

Indians labeled with names of merchants

Buckler,

who commissioned

them

Portraits of Native Americans
Photographs

displayed on walls

154
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Jenny Proctor
Photograph

and Jimmy Linkens

of Native Americans,

155
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c. 1930

III

Portrait of Henry Darnell

Painting by Justus Kuhn, c. 1710
Spotlight illuminates enslaved child in dog collar

-.-

On the museum's

.

sound system a child's voice asks,

"Am Iyour brother? Am Iyour friend? Am Iyour pet?"

156
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Metalwork 1793-1880

.
.
:~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

.E < ..- . ......5W

es,

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'7
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Modes

of Transport

1770-1910

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RE

WARD.

ltati a-way from the subscriber, living eight miles from the
city of Baltimore, on the Falls Turnpike Road, ou

Friday,

the

of May,

21st

S

NEGRtOE
RICI

liD

4A'I,

ltichard aged aboult twent-8itx years,five feet si.&or seveni inches high, yellowish Edti0
jiZexion, email beard, has a scar on his forehead, stutters a little itt cohversatiol,zbt 9whent
he is alarmed it isincreased considerably: .1e i straight antdwell proportioned except one
leg zvh&h it it little crookedfrom having be;n once broken. His cthingAiotknown,
sx
cept d nezow7oothait, a dark grey broad-cloth surtout doat, and a blS&in-fon'nt United Statces
soldier's
coat, both half woorn, and two pair of new calf-skin
shoes,8 ',6ne j air sfawich ivere
Richard ran aweaj#fromn me in 18 k4; he-u'as then takeniLp
right and left.
inzpZ
tinsjhaniaj
at the house of a man named Gross,(near
fork laten,)
where he learned tlie distilling
bus.
is probable he will return to that state (and will call at Jkr. Gross' hAouse4a.iJc.
iness.---It

left there a watch and some other articles) and engage with a distilleir again.
NE.D, w0howas decoyed dwea#by Richard, i' about twenty years of age, quite bilack,Jtve
feet eight or nine inches high, stout and wellformedj has a pleasant counitenance, anldgene.
rally smiles solen spoken to,naturally s0low it his motions and of an eas# quiet disposition,
he walks very erect and when in conve'satiot has given himself the habit of 8pittintg
through

his

teeth.

lie has

nd particular

marks.

except

retollected,

a scar on the back of

his hand.. -ffis dlothtng tike Richard's tot particularly knownt, except a blue cloth coat
'with long skir't, d paie of greenish pan2taloons, both half worn, and an ol(dfurred hat.
Richard
has provided
T. Scarf
himself with
zoney by robbing J1.. Edmond
the nitg'ht hle ran away, and it is probable
they twill 800)t chainge theit dress.

of 75 dollars

I wilt$i-ee FORTEr dollars to any person thaiwill give me informalioni wlhere they arc

*o that I gei

thent tagain, or OXE

HUXDREDJ

DOLLARS

for

kdureasonable chariges paid4

each

e

Thomnas

Johnso:n

if brought

home, and

Y. 7t. Theij took tsilh them two blankcts~ blue tripes, commonly calledCpoint blanketo.
3 1-2 points.

i4rfir,?810.

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"Naughty Nellie" Bootjack
Cast

..

iron, c. 1880

..

Zouave Soldier
Dancing

Chesapeake

Doll

toy, c. 1882

Bay Decoys
I4.

Runaway

Slaves

Printed inBaltimore,

Broadside
1819

161
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?2q

?

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?.'K ?

4

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4r..~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

side

Chairs

hipping Post
Baltimore

City Jail,

c. 1850ot Ra

timore

quitable

and

Armchairs-~~r

one with logo~~~~,-"44Including
Society

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-t. 1820--r-96~~~~~

-

Who Resisted

African-Americans

Slavery

Slide projections of names

S-

~~~~~~'

a_

The Gap at Harper's

Ferry

DolIhouse

Made by a child's father, c. 1904

Painting, artist unknown, c. 1880

Pikes

from John Brown's

(above and right)

Raid on Harper's

Ferry

c. 1859

164
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1%'la

"The spirit of revolt spread
in a County without
the slaves.

police protection

The demon

the Eastern

throughout

of massacre

we were
was

-from the autobiography

Shore and

at the mercy

of

at our door."
of Mrs. Enoch Louis Lowe

?

165
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Souvenirs

of the Colony

"Maryland in Liberia"

Artifacts from the African colony of freed American
established

by the American Colonization

Society,

Strip of ivory, beads, African comb, and beaded

slaves,
c. 1870

neck-rope with amulet

166
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Objects Made
Water
Woven

by Enslaved

African-Americans

jug by Melinda, Cockey Plantation
basket, Woodlawn

Nursemaid's

Plantation

rocking chair, Snow Hill Plantation,

c. 1825-50

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Benjamin
1790-1806;
October

Banneker's

Astronomical

Journal

slide projection of his chart predicting eclipse of

18, 1800; computer showing night sky of same day

Chippendale

Table and Celestial

Globe
c. 1776

168
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FRED

WILSON

Mining theMuseum
B]

y excavating the site of institutional racism and retrieving
forgotten African-American artifacts and heroes, Fred Wil
son's "Mining theMuseum" brings to light a history and

a cultural

presence

that have

been

buried

beneath

layers of ne

glect and deliberate exclusion. Wilson has culled most of these
objects from the permanent collection of theMaryland Historical
Society and uses the museum itself as a locus for their presenta
tion, which mimics the usual methods of curatorial selection and
museum display: specially painted rooms, silkscreened wall texts,
labels, audiovisual material, etc. The objects chosen, and the sly
twists of Wilson's juxtapositions, call attention to the biases that
normally underlie historical exhibitions, thus subverting and shat
tering them. In thisway, "Mining theMuseum" takes a place along
side other works that have focused on themeaning of the gallery
or museum as both a formal space and an ideological construct.
By adding the explosive element of racism,Wilson grafts a cold
populist fury onto a now-familiar subgenre of conceptualism.
One antecedent of what has been referred to as "museumist
art" and "institutional critique" is Yes Klein's 1958 Paris exhi
bition "Le Vide," in which he emptied the Galerie Iris Clert,
transforming it into a "zone of immaterial pictorial sensibility."
Whatever else Klein intended, the effect of this gesture was to call
attention to the gallery space in and of itself. The idea was devel
oped more explicitly in "Raid the Icebox 1With Andy Warhol," a
1969 exhibition of objects from the art museum of the Rhode Is
land School of Design. Work in the 1970s by such artists asMarcel
Broodthaers and Michael Asher continued to assail the perceived
neutrality of institutions governing the cultural reception of art.
Over time, the tenor of institutional critique has become increas
ingly radicalized, even as the practice itself has assumed a more
entrenched-even
within contemporary
conventional-position
art. Institutions, for example, have begun to invite artists to stage
critiques within their own walls, aswithJoseph Kosuth's "The Play
of the Unmentionable"
(1990) at the Brooklyn Museum. Yet in
pite-or because-of
this acceptance, "institutional critique" has
assumed a preeminent role in redrawing the boundary between

1 70

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MINING

THE

MUSEUM

art and life. It is no accident thatmany of its practitioners, such as
Louise Lawler, Judith Barry, Silvia Kolbowski, and Andrea Fraser,
are women; others, likeWilson, are artists of color. At the heart of
their projects is a struggle to redefine art history, erasing the de
marcations of gender, race, and class. As such, their effort reflects
the larger struggle being played out in society as a whole.
Indeed, "Mining theMuseum" opened against the backdrop
of a presidential campaign in which the looming threat of a re
actionary kulturkampfwas one defining issue. Notwithstanding the
charged atmosphere inwhich itwas presented, "Mining the Mu
seum" succeeds in circumventing its own polemical potential; al
though it is a devastating indictment of racism, it is also-and
chiefly-an optimistic act of consciousness-raising, and this hope
ful note sets it apart from other, similar, works.
The exhibit begins with a sort of prologue that immediately
challenges the assumptions that surround the ordering and pre
sentation of history. The viewer is confronted with a Plexiglas
case containing a gold-and-silver globe bearing the single word
Truth: an old industry award given among advertising "clubs" in
the first half of the century. This "Truth Trophy" is flanked on
the left by three empty pedestals, labeled "Frederick Douglass,"
"Harriet Tubman," and "Benjamin Banneker," and on the right by
three pedestals supporting marble portrait busts of Henry Clay,
Napoleon Bonaparte, and Andrew Jackson. The missing histori
cal figures are all African-American, and all at one point lived in
Maryland, yet they are not represented in this ostensibly "local"
institution. Meanwhile, the other figures, allwhite, and none from
Maryland, are prominently displayed in appropriately colored
stone. Wilson makes clear that the link between historical verac
ity and the portrayal of history is as tenuous as the connection
between truth and advertising.
"Mining theMuseum" is filled with such ironies: carved cigar
store Indians-as conceived by the nineteenth-century merchants
who commissioned them-turn their backs on the viewer to gaze at
photographs of actual Native Americans. Slave shackles are insin
uated among period silverware. A Klan hood is secreted in a baby
carriage, not far from a turn-of-the-century photograph that shows
black domestics pushing prams that hold their infant charges (and
future employers). A whipping post is encircled by staid Victorian

1 71

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FRED

WILSON

furniture, pulled up as if for a performance. Wilson has also left
"clues" alluding to the installation in other areas of themuseum,
such as a dog collar, similar to the collar worn by an enslaved child
in a portrait of Henry Darnell III, placed where that painting nor
mally hangs.
These objects are organized in a series of rooms, each painted
a single color, signaling changes in thematic emphasis. The Green
Room, for example, deals primarily with recovering the identity
of African-Americans from examples of late eighteenth- and early
nineteenth-century art and artifacts, while the Red Room deals
with slave revolts and the battles for abolition. The last room of
the exhibition is painted a deep and redemptive shade of blue.
In one long, narrow space, Wilson juxtaposes artifacts made un
der

slavery

with

others

from

Liberia.

In a separate

part

of

the

room, he displays the astronomical journal of a free, self-taught
African-American who was a prominent mathematician, surveyor,
and astronomer,

as well

as a friend

of Thomas

Jefferson,

to whom

he once wrote, "Sir I freely and Chearfully acknowledge, that I am
of theAfrican race."This man was Benjamin Banneker, one of the
figures absent from the show's initial tableau.
"Mining theMuseum" thus ends by echoing its beginning, but
adds a note of grace. After the relentless exposure of a complex,
institutionally codified oppression, Wilson ends with the affirm
ing portrayal of a courageous individual. In her upcoming book
on "Mining the Museum," the exhibition's curator, Lisa Corrin,
quotesJames Baldwin: "The question of color takes up much space
in these pages, but the question of color, especially in this country,
operates to hide the graver question of self."With Banneker as an
example, Wilson suggests that this question can be triumphantly
confronted.
-Howard

1 72

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Halle


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