Pace Gallery has organized a mini solo exhibition of the artist Fred Wilson at Frieze New York, and Wilson himself was walking around the fair yesterday, looking dapper but slightly dazed. I asked him if he had time for a few questions. We then had one of those classic art fair interactions, in which our interview—before it even began—was interrupted by no less than three sessions of small talk with people Wilson had varying levels of familiarity with. We scanned the room intently looking for privacy, found nothing, and settled on basically hiding behind a bookshelf in a bookstore at one corner of the fair.
Wilson called his work at Pace “conceptually related, but with different materials, different histories that are interwoven with each other. That’s kind of what I do. This came together, since it’s an art fair, it came together very quickly.” I asked him how he enjoyed having a solo booth.
“Usually it’s a couple works here and there and it’s really not very satisfying,” he said. “Being here is…an unusual experience.”
“For reporters, too,” I said.
“Yeah,” Wilson said. “But, uh, having the whole booth, I’m having to present a real image of what I’m doing, and sort of give something for people to think about. And so it’s a lot more satisfying. Not that I want to stay here while the gallery sells things.”
“Yeah that’s awkward.” (Right when I finished saying the word “awkward,” an artist I know—who also has a solo booth at Frieze—came up and said hello, and then accidentally knocked a bunch of books off of a table and shouted, “Timber!” We immediately picked up our conversation as if this didn’t happen. Oh, art fairs. It’s impossible to be a functioning human being at these things.)
Wilson’s works include a series of flag paintings, with every color removed but black.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how these flags exist in the world, and how they reflect the cultures they represent,” Wilson said. “They’re all African or African diaspora countries. For me, taking out the color, well it makes you ask the question, What happened to the color? And just speaks to some of the—for many of these countries—the continuing retooling and reconnoitering of their histories and their lives and who they are. Some of them I had to redo because the flags changed over recent years.”
He then had to go back into the crowd, and looked slightly wary at the prospect. “There’s a lot of people who seem to know me, but I don’t know them,” he said.