A conceptual artist, Fred Wilson gained notoriety with his 1992 exhibition, “Mining the Museum,” developed from the collections of the Maryland Historical Society. Wilson, who worked as a museum educator in New York City during the 1970s, had become “very aware of what wasn’t being shown to the public. . . . Those were the experiences that really got me thinking.” Selecting objects from the society’s storerooms, he displayed a 19th-century silver service with forged iron manacles, and a wooden whipping post with four ornate chairs, all objects documenting aspects of the slave experience in America. “When I’m going through things, I become aware of questions no one is answering,” Wilson says.
In 2003, Wilson was chosen to represent the United States at the 50th Venice Biennale, and his exhibition aimed to restore the invisible influence of Africa in the art and culture of Venice, a historic crossroads of cultures. “It turned out that [glass] was a very good vehicle for me intellectually, as well as sculpturally,” Wilson notes. “My chandeliers are sculptures that speak of a historical moment in a culture that is long gone. . . . [They] reveal my desire to recast that era to include those like me, whose ancestors were not perceived to be a part of that moment in time.”
The title, To Die upon a Kiss, quotes the final words of Othello in Shakespeare’s tragedy. But the work is more “a rumination on death, or more specifically, the slow ebb of life. . . . The chandelier’s color changes from clear and light glass at the top . . . to opaque black at the bottom with deliberate gradations of grey in between,” Wilson says. “I perceive this work as a visual evocation of the fluidity, inconsistency, and fragility of the notion of race.”