Art21 Extended Play

Fred Wilson Talks Beauty and Ugliness

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Detail of Fred Wilson’s installation Speak of Me as I Am at the 50th Venice Biennale, 2003. Production still from the series Exclusive. © Art21, Inc. 2014. Courtesy the artist.

“People have to deal with the fact that there is meaning in beauty, there is meaning in ugliness. I try to bring out that tension.” —Fred Wilson

In today’s Exclusive, filmed in 2004, Fred Wilson discusses how beauty and ugliness together create meaning. For his installation Speak of Me as I Am at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003), Wilson arranged “blackamoors”—decorative sculptures common in Venice—throughout the American Pavilion. In doing so, he called attention to how these beautiful objects depict Africans in servitude. Also shown in this film is Wilson’s piece Cabinetmaking, 1820–1960 (1992)—ornate nineteenth-century chairs juxtaposed with a whipping post—installed at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2004.

Exclusive is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; 21c Museum Hotel, and by individual contributors.


  1. Ema Dzevdetbegovic says:

    I very much enjoyed this video. I too feel that beauty is nothing without meaning. Beauty inspires its audience however it’s the meaning that provides a lasting impact and that is the only kind of art that I appreciate. Art is a a creation and expression of everything and anything that we has humans encompass. Therefore, I feel that every art piece has a meaning to it whether or not the artist wanted to communicate it or not. The virtue of art is how we choose to express this meaning, be it as abstract and hidden as possible, expressed in an intricate and clever way as this artist has done, or as obviously as possible as some others have done. The only difference these methods provide is how these meanings reach the audience and that is the true beauty of art, in my opinion. I really connected to Fred Wilson’s work and appreciated his input into the concept of art.

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