LOS ANGELES-BASED Charles Gaines is the latest recipient of the prestigious Edward MacDowell Medal.
The MacDowell Colony announced last week that Gaines was selected for the honor. He will receive the 60th MacDowell Medal on Aug. 11 at a free public event on the grounds of the colony in Peterborough, N.H.
The recognition comes as the pioneering conceptual artist prepares for two public talks in London this week and a fall gallery exhibition in Los Angeles.
The MacDowell Colony was founded in 1907. The mission of the contemporary arts organization is to provide an inspiring environment that gives artists the space to create. MacDowell supports both emerging and established artists, bringing together diverse talent across a range of disciplines to exchange ideas and produce meaningful, enduring work.
Since 1960, the MacDowell Medal has been awarded to “an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to American culture.”
“Charles Gaines is many things: an influential teacher, a provocative and powerful writer and curator, a talented drummer, and, of course, a highly renowned and celebrated visual artist,” said Ann Philbin in a statment. The director of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles served as chair of the Medalist Selection Panel.
She continued: “It is thrilling to see him receive the 60th MacDowell Medal—the latest in a long line of some of the greatest artists of our time. Charles has been a leading figure in the conceptual art movement on the West Coast for more than 40 years. His influence as an artist is exponentially enhanced by his legacy as an educator, helping generations of students find their artistic voices since the 1970s.”
“Charles Gaines is many things: an influential teacher, a provocative and powerful writer and curator, a talented drummer, and, of course, a highly renowned and celebrated visual artist. It is thrilling to see him receive the 60th MacDowell Medal—the latest in a long line of some of the greatest artists of our time.” — Ann Philbin, Hammer Museum
In addition to Philbin, members of the selection panel were New Yorker writer and critic Hilton Als; Naima Keith, vice president of education and public programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; conceptual artist and educator Barbara Kruger; and visual artist Arthur Simms, who serves on The MacDowell Colony Board of Directors.
CONTENT, FORM, AND THEORY are the central concerns of Gaines’s conceptual practice. Employing systems-based methodologies, he explores language, aesthetics, politics, and music. He generally works in series, utilizing a variety of mediums, from photography to drawings and works on paper and acrylic glass.
Gaines has exhibited widely and his work is represented in major public and private collections. “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989” (July 17–Oct. 26, 2014), his first-ever museum survey was organized by Keith at the Studio Museum in Harlem and traveled to the Hammer Museum. In 2007 and 2005, his work was presented at the Venice Biennale.
Born in Charleston, S.C., Gaines grew up in Newark, N.J. Today, he lives and works in Los Angeles. In 1967, he became the first black student to earn an MFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Art and Design. Gaines taught at Mississippi Valley State University and Fresno State in California, before joining the faculty at CalArts School of Art in 1989. Artists Edgar Arceneaux, Mark Bradford, Andrea Bowers, Sam Durant, Rodney McMillian, and Henry Taylor, are among his former CalArts students.
From left, CHARLES GAINES, “Numbers and Trees: Palm Tree 1, Tree #4 Zori,” 2018 (acrylic sheet, acrylic paint, lacquer, wood, 276.9 x 144.5 x 14.6 cm / 109 x 56 7/8 x 5 3/4 inches). | © Charles Gaines, Photo by Fredrik Nilsen; CHARLES GAINES, Detail of “Numbers and Trees: Palm Tree 1, Tree #4 Zori,” 2018 | © Charles Gaines, Photo by Fredrik Nilsen
“WHEN I RECEIVED the phone call telling me I was selected, I really couldn’t believe it,” Gaines said in a statement. “I think I still don’t. I am familiar with MacDowell and its amazing list of Medal recipients and because of this, I feared that my imagination would be unable to handle the magnitude of such a recognition…. Being chosen by the selection panel is particularly poignant for me because they are all people I deeply respect and admire.”
“When I received the phone call telling me I was selected, I really couldn’t believe it. I think I still don’t. …Being chosen by the selection panel is particularly poignant for me because they are all people I deeply respect and admire.” — Charles Gaines
Previous recipients of the MacDowell Medal have included the most respected figures in their fields—Aaron Copeland, Alexander Calder, Edward Hopper, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Mailer, Willem de Kooning, John Updike, Isamu Noguchi, Robert Motherwell, Leonard Bernstein, Louise Bourgeois, Jasper Johns, Joan Didion, I.M. Pei, Ellsworth Kelly, Merce Cunningham, Nam June Paik, Thom Mayne, Sonny Rollins, Edward Albee, Nan Goldin, Betye Saar, and Toni Morrison.
Prior to Gaines, only three African Americans have received the MacDowell Medal—Rollins, Saar, and Morrison. The first African American visual artist to be recognized, Saar was the 2014 recipient. Curator Lowery Stokes Sims was selected as the speaker and presented the medal to Saar.
This year, Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and MacDowell Colony chairman and fellow, will present the medal to Gaines.
GAINES IS IN LONDON this week. Tomorrow, he is giving a lecture at Central Saint Martins (April 15). On Thursday, Gaines is in conversation at Whitechapel Gallery (April 18).
The discussion at Whitechapel revisits, “The Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism,” a groundbreaking exhibition Gaines curated in 1993 featuring 11 artists—Jean Michel Basquiat, Renee Green, David Hammons, Ben Patterson, Adrian Piper, Sandra Rowe, Gary Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Fat Ward Williams, and Fred Wilson.
Presented at the Fine Arts Gallery at the University of California, Irvine, the exhibition “foregrounded questions of structural racism by juxtaposing works by African-American artists with their reception in mainstream arts criticism. First proposed by Gaines in 1989 and developed through extended dialogue and debate, this multi-faceted exhibition articulated a theory of counter-marginality.”
Last year, Gaines joined Hauser & Wirth. His first exhibition with the gallery will be presented this fall in Los Angeles. CT
IMAGE: Top right, Charles Gaines. | Photo by Fredrik Nilsen, Courtesy The McDowell Colony
Published to document the artist’s first-ever museum survey, “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989” includes written contributions by Thelma Golden, Naima Keith, Ellen Tani, Anne Ellegood, Howard Singerman, and Malik Gaines (the artist’s son, who is writer, artist, and scholar) and a conversation between Gaines and Courtney J. Martin. Gaines conducts conversations with fellow artists Kerry James Marshall (“Kerry James Marshall,” Phaidon Contemporary Artists series) and former student Henry Taylor (“Henry Taylor”), in major volumes exploring their work.
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