New Work: Charles Gaines (solo show)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
6 March – 12 September 2021
New Work: Charles Gaines presents Manifestos 4 (2020), an installation comprising four drawings, two videos, and a musical composition for sextet as well as Skybox 2 (2020), an immersive experience of text and the unknown. The conceptual artist’s new works emerge from research into the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, which decreed that Black people were not U.S. citizens and therefore could not sue for their right to freedom. Many believe the ruling, one of the most controversial decisions of the Supreme Court, authorized racism and has left an indelible stain on the foundation of this country. In his charged return to this historical court ruling and its trial documents, Gaines disarms these texts by subjecting them to his rules-based methodologies, disrupting our understanding of rational information and the realm of the sublime.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Dia Beacon, Beacon (solo show)
19 February 2021 – 5 February 2023
Charles Gaines has been interrogating the way meaning is constructed through lyrical, system-based work since the 1970s, when he began incorporating the grid as a central formal device in his work. A key figure in the development of Conceptual art, the artist analyzes, overlaps, and juxtaposes different systems of representation—mathematical, photographic, linguistic, notational—in order to reveal individual fallacies and collective poignancy. This focused, collection-based survey follows Dia’s recent acquisition of a body of work by Gaines. The exhibition brings the artist’s first mathematically determined grid drawings and early experiments with transcribing photographic images into numerical notations together with more recent investigations into how image, identity, and language are represented and deconstructed.
Gaines began incorporating the grid into his work—an important formal device in modern art movements such as Minimalism—in the early 1970s. In conversation with artists who he first encountered in New York City, such as Hanne Darboven and Sol LeWitt (with whom he developed a close friendship), Gaines began using serial calculations and systematic procedures to create work that at once resists subjective expression and cultivates ambiguity. As the artist explains, “I looked for tropes, like mathematics, that do not privilege the creative unconscious. Through ‘systems’ I could go where the imagination couldn’t and bring things that otherwise would not be thought about to light. Out of this I began using the grid.”
Gaines’s first grid works, the Regression series, consists of four groups of seven drawings each determined by a set of mathematical combinations whose values are transcribed onto grids and recalibrated into abstract shapes. A cascading computational system of numbers generates the works and produces forms that sequentially expand and contract like waves. Abstraction and order converge in these drawings, which prefigure the artist’s later interests in speech and sound. Taking Regression: Drawings #1–7, Group #2 (recently acquired by Dia) as its point of departure, this exhibition explores the complex production of meaning that emerges in Gaines’s metonymical practice.
Alongside the Regressions, Dia will present selections from Gaines’s Walnut Tree Orchard, Faces, and Shadows series. In the wake of Gaines’s first experimentations with the grid, these works use color-coded numerical extrapolations of photographs that are layered into gridded drawings. What begins as indexical mapping crescendos into an abstraction, which belies the technical precision and presumed objectivity of the photographic form and creates space for multiple representational structures to exist at once.
Since the early 2000s, Gaines’s practice has come to encompass sculpture, video, sound, and performance. He continues to probe the liminal space that emerges from the juxtaposition of different structures of meaning, particularly music and language. However, these newer works reveal an increased and explicit preoccupation with the complex relationship between aesthetics and social justice. Dia’s exhibition will include a work from Gaines’s Librettos: Manuel de Falla/Stokeley Carmichael series, which plots the text of a Carmichael speech over the score for de Falla’s tragic opera La vida breve (1904–05). Black Ghost Blues Redux (2008), a video work made by Gaines in collaboration with Hoyun Son, will be accessible on Dia’s website throughout the run of the exhibition.
A brush with... Charles Gaines (podcast)
In the latest episode, from the second series of the podcast, "A brush with...", Charles Gaines talks to The Art Newspaper about his influences, cultural experiences and how they have affected his life and work. Gaines discusses the impact of visiting the Metropolitan Museum's collection of African art during a period in which he "completely rethought who [he] was, not only as a person but as a Black person in America".
Listen to the podcast here.
The Art Newspaper