By Matthew Farina
|Fred Wilson, To Die Upon A Kiss, 2011, Murano glass, 70" x 68-1/2" x 68-1/2"|
A brooding and precise tension pervades the recent works of the Bronx-born MacArthur "Genius" Fred Wilson, who has recently been living in Venice. His new show, loosely derived from the visual and historical environment that surrounded him in Italy, is as shiny and slickly-constructed as anything you’ll see in Chelsea these days, but flourishes with an intimate darkness.
Wilson, who is now 58, has a continuing interest in the 18th century chandelier as a source for historical nostalgia and personal metaphor. Some may remember Wilson’s piece Speak of Me as I Am, an all-black glass chandelier hung in the 2003 Venice Biennale. The work referenced Shakespeare’s Othello while drawing a connection to Africans who lived in Venice during the 16th through 18th centuries. The new, wildly embellished chandelier dominating the front gallery at Pace, titled To Die Upon a Kiss, evokes a transitional state for viewers. The chandelier not only includes a fade in the glass—from saturated black, to slate, then soft grey and finally into transparency—but also presents a conceptual transition that feels important to note. Standing directly beneath the piece, one feels enveloped by the loss of black which dissipates towards a crystallized web of light at the top of the chandelier—a sort of Minimalist ascension.
Wilson's intellectual considerations for the work are revealed with unusually telling wall text written by the artist himself. Commentary on race, which is central to Wilson's practice, isn't apparent by merely looking at the work, but adds an intriguing dimension. A smaller chandelier hangs in the back gallery along with several dense assemblages that look like Venetian frames clinging to themselves in black masses. The relationship between historical painted images and Wilson's conceptual use of their absence is satisfying.
|Fred Wilson, Sala Longhi, 2011, black float glass, antiqued gold painted wood frames, Murano blown glass, and light bulbs, installation dimensions variable|
Nearby are a set of wall-hung monochromes presented in distressed faux-gilded frames. Each image, as an ensemble titled The Sala Longhi (2011), after Pietro Longhi’s Ca’Rezzonico (1760’s), consists of a glossy black surface with coin-sized holes cut into the glass. The holes are located in the same places as the figures’ heads in Longhi’s suite of paintings which evokes a stark and empty memory of the original paintings. Wilson relates this work to the financial downturn he observed in the United States during 2008, which was starkly opposed by the opulence surrounding the artist in Venice as he considered Longhi’s fanciful paintings. “I remember that I felt a dark economic cloud loomed on the horizon. I wondered to myself if that cloud would engulf New York as well. I looked around me and no one seemed to notice the slow moving storm.”
Wilson’s sense of impending disaster and blackened 'difference' can be resolutely felt in the new show. Softball-sized droplets, attached to the walls in separate pieces, simulate zones of falling black material like gelatinous comets. The suggestion that the moment of destruction is upon us—as the droplets are frozen in time—is a nice compliment to historical use of temporality in the chandeliers and frame-assemblages. Wilson conflates time and history to give us a sense of both slowly creeping and quickened doom.
Exhibition continues at The Pace Gallery until April 14, 2012.
 A Statement by Fred Wilson. The Pace Gallery. 2.