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New York City teens enrolled in the Whitney’s Youth Insights (YI) Leaders program have been invited by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund to make art and showcase their work in a special exhibition this spring. The exhibition will include artwork created by the teens through a collaborative project with renowned contemporary artist Fred Wilson. On Monday, February 25, Leaders headed to Wilson’s studio in Bushwick to meet the artist, learn about his practice, and begin an ongoing conversation about the work they will make together over the course of the semester.
Warmly welcoming the group, Wilson brought the twelve teens to a worktable in the corner of his studio. There, he opened a bag and let a multitude of bright red apples spill out. Wilson instructed each Leader to take an apple and really look at it, then return it to the bag. Wilson opened the bag once again, and each teen was able to quickly and confidently identify his or her original apple from what had at first been a mass of identical fruit. Wilson explained that this principle of being able to look closely at something and see it in a new or unique light is what the teens should keep in mind as they begin to create their own art.
As apples were stowed away in pockets and backpacks, Wilson talked about the works-in-progress and the walls of the studio. He brought out prints from his storage room, which houses artwork, supplies, and archives of articles and books written about his work. He later invited the teens to explore that room and its contents. When everyone returned to the main studio space, the lights dimmed for a slideshow presentation that took the Leaders through the highlights of Wilson’s career up to the present. As he shared some behind-the-scenes stories about creating his work and collaborating with museums, he was humorous and candid.
When the presentation ended, Wilson invited questions from the Leaders. They were particularly interested in works such as Wilson’s Friendly Natives (1991), which critiques the way in which cultural institutions have historically treated Native Americans, indigenous people, and their artwork and artifacts. Wilson and the Leaders discussed at length how museums are taking steps towards exhibiting and preserving objects in ways that honor Native customs and traditions. From there, the conversation ranged from Wilson’s thoughts about working closely with a museum or cultural institution in order to create work that questions that same institution, as Wilson does in works like Mining the Museum (1992), to his own experiences as an art student at SUNY Purchase, which one Leader is considering attending next year.
Leaders left the studio with instructions to keep thinking about the kinds of ideas they might want their collaborative art project to explore—and with the promise that they would see Wilson, and discuss those ideas, again soon. A huge thank you to Wilson and his studio assistants Heather, Justin, and Karlito for such an amazing experience—the YI Leaders can’t wait to come back and continue working together!
By Correna Cohen, Youth Programs Fellow