On view at Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
THE MASTER PLAN or In Between the Big Bang and Modern Art is the Restroom by American artist Fred Wilson
22 photogravures created at Brodsky Center in 2004–2009 premiere at Zimmerli Art Museum
Excerpted from traditional collection care terminology, visitor services signage and gallery layouts from visitor orientation maps of eighteen European and North American museums of anthropology, art, cultural or natural history, THE MASTER PLAN by MacArthur Award winner artist Fred Wilson provides a fascinating opportunity for viewers to gain deeper awareness of the influential institutions that are entrusted with the understanding of human kind through history, culture and artifacts.
Uncovering how museums reflect society's cultural constructs through object selection, display, and interpretation has been Wilson's persistent focus. It has made his work one of contemporary art's most transformative contributions of the past three decades. In 2004 Wilson was invited to Brodsky Center to create a work, where this suite was completed in 2009. The 22 photogravures on Somerset white paper, accompanied by 3 digital prints including list of institutions, title and colophon, are in an edition of 24. Sheet size is 23 x 30 inches, while image size varies.
This is the first time THE MASTER PLAN or In Between the Big Bang and Modern Art is the Restroom is exhibited in its entirety. Wilson recalls that, at the beginning of his career, "working simultaneously in the educational department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the American Craft Museum made me wonder about how the environment in which cultural production is placed affects the way the viewer feels about the artwork and the artist who made these things."
In THE MASTER PLAN, the artist reuses ready-made museum orientation maps but omits all specifics except for a few areas and functions. Displayed as an immersive installation of evocative but anonymous abstract forms, viewers supply their own "master narrative" as they compare one plan or symbol usage to the next. Meaning is left open to individual experience, imagination and desire, ultimately assessing museum's organization against viewer's nonconformity.
The loss of information leaves room for assumptions, but indicators highlighted by the artist enable a clearer view. For example, familiar classifications such as "Sporting Art," which are intended to raise audience's understanding, in this context echo a deeper sense relating to the privileged life of museum founders. The subtitle In Between the Big Bang and Modern Art is the Restroom evokes an evolutionary perspective, the legacy of colonialism and imperialism, still embodied today in the organization of materials cared for by Western museums, supported in most cases by a hierarchically distributed space division.
A list of the museums represented in THE MASTER PLAN is provided and includes the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; The Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Chicago History Museum, IL; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, CT; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; MoMA P.S. 1, Long Island City, NY; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.
Fred Wilson was born in 1954 in New York, where he lives and works. He received a BFA from Purchase College, SUNY, in 1976. In his 1992 groundbreaking project Mining the Museum Wilson re-installed sections of the collection at the Maryland Historical Society to highlight the history of slavery in America. In 1999, Wilson received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award. In 2003 he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. Wilson is currently a trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.