Charles Gaines

Moving Chains (installation)
Governors Island, New York City
15 October 2022 – June 2023

Charles Gaines, Moving Chains, 2022, courtesy of Creative Time, photography by Timothy Schenk
Charles Gaines, Moving Chains, 2022, courtesy of Creative Time, photography by Timothy Schenk

The artist’s first public artwork, Moving Chains, is now open to the public on Governors Island, New York City.  Built from steel and sustainably harvested Sapel – a tree native to West Africa commonly referred to as ‘African Mahogany’ – the 110-foot-long kinetic sculpture is activated by colossal chains rotating overhead anchors. Recalling the history of slavery, the installation addresses systemic racism in contemporary America through a powerfully embodied visual experience.

Moving Chains is the second part of Gaines’ ‘The American Manifest’, a three-part project of multimedia performances, sculpture, and educational sessions offering a critical commentary of American capitalism. Part one of the project consisted of a sculptural display of seven upside-down sweetgum trees, titled Roots, in Times Square. For part three, Moving Chains will travel to the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati in Summer 2023.


Charles Gaines, Bridget Riley

2022 Newly Elected Members of American Academy of Arts and Letters

Left: Charles Gaines, photo: Fredrik Nilsen, Right: Bridget Riley, photo courtesy of the Bridget Riley Archive
Left: Charles Gaines, photo: Fredrik Nilsen, Right: Bridget Riley, photo courtesy of the Bridget Riley Archive

We congratulate Charles Gaines and Bridget Riley on their selection into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, one of the highest forms of recognition of artistic merit in the United States.

An honour society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers, the American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, John Singer Sargent, and Mark Twain.

American Academy of Arts and Letters

Charles Gaines

Dia Beacon, Beacon (solo show)
19 February 2021 – 5 February 2023

Charles Gaines, Shadow IX, Set 3, 1980, © Charles Gaines, photo: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of the artist
Charles Gaines, Shadow IX, Set 3, 1980, © Charles Gaines, photo: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of the artist

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.

Dia Beacon

Charles Gaines

A brush with... Charles Gaines (podcast)

Charles Gaines, photo: Holger Niehaus
Charles Gaines, photo: Holger Niehaus

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