Wildfire Test Pit

King Sculpture Court

August 30, 2016 to June 12, 2017

This site-specific installation by Fred Wilson functions as a metaphor for the biases in our perceptions of what and who should be remembered. The New York-based artist uses works from the Allen Memorial Art Museum and other local collections to return the museum’s King Sculpture Court to its roots as a space for displaying classical sculpture. Interweaving objects and aspects from the 183-year history of Oberlin College, Wilson creates juxtapositions that ask viewers to rethink deeply embedded social, cultural, and historical narratives.

His primary inspiration is the 19th-century sculptor Edmonia Lewis, who attended Oberlin College but left in the wake of unfounded rumors. Although Lewis achieved success as an expatriate in Rome, until recently her gravesite and the whereabouts of some of her most important works were unknown. By evoking artistic legacies that have been obscured and distorted through the passage of time, Wildfire Test Pit functions as an illusory setting of ruin and redemption.

Wilson’s collaborations with museums and cultural institutions began with his acclaimed 1992 Mining the Museum exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society. He continues to question display practices that are often taken for granted. With its emphasis on forgotten and marginalized histories, Wildfire Test Pit coincides with the AMAM’s focus this academic year on the concept of time. A companion exhibition in the Ellen Johnson Gallery presents works by Fred Wilson in a variety of media.

Organized in conjunction with the artist by Denise Birkhofer, Ellen Johnson ’33 Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Andria Derstine, John G.W. Cowles Director, with assistance from Alexandra Nicome ’17.

Photo by John Seyfried