Omar-inspired ironwork to permanently greet museum guests
Fred Wilson stands beside “Omniscience” when it was debuted in the Gibbes Museum rotunda in 2022. Click image to enlarge.
This Friday, the Gibbes Museum of Art will hold a dedication for Omniscience, a sculpture by internationally-renowned artist Fred Wilson.
The outdoor installation of the work will mark the museum’s first-ever permanent display of sculpture for the public at the Gibbes’ Meeting Street entrance.
Omniscience was commissioned by the Gibbes and unveiled in the museum’s rotunda in May 2022, coinciding with the world premiere of Spoleto Festival USA’s original opera Omar. Omar Ibn Said, an Islamic scholar enslaved in the Carolinas from 1807 until his death in 1864, was the inspiration for both works. Ibn Said is believed to have written the only known Arabic-language autobiography penned by an enslaved African in the United States.
“The public installation of this artwork is remarkable for not only the Gibbes but the city of Charleston,” says Angela Mack, Gibbes Museum of Art executive director. “Fred Wilson is a preeminent artist who has created Omniscience in the tradition of the wrought ironwork common in Charleston’s historic built environment that drives thoughtful conversations about the city’s complicated history.”
Wilson, known for his interdisciplinary practice that challenges assumptions of history, culture, race and conventions of display, depicts Said’s story through a monumental metalwork created in the tradition of decorative wrought ironwork emblematic of Charleston’s historic gates. Wilson worked with artisans at the American College of the Building Arts to fabricate the sculpture, a 14-foot tall, 3-foot square column containing a replica of Said’s memoir which appears to be floating. The hard material of the structure is contrasted by the lightness of the book, an inference of Said’s fragility. Omniscience represents Fred Wilson’s first-ever venture in ironwork and is the first work he has created specifically for a Southeastern museum.
The American College of the Building Arts received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in the arts in education category from the S.C. Arts Commission last May.
Since his groundbreaking and historically significant exhibition Mining the Museum (1992) at the Maryland Historical Society, Wilson continues to use cultural products to address issues of racism and erasure as the subject of many solo exhibitions. Wilson’s many accolades include the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius” Grant (1999); the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture (2006); the Alain Locke Award from The Friends of African and African American Art at the Detroit Institute of Arts (2013); a Lifetime Achievement Award, Howard University, Washington, D.C. (2017); the Ford Foundation’s Art of Change Award (2017-18); and an honor by The Black Alumni of Pratt Institute during their 2017 Celebration of the Creative Spirit. Wilson was named the 2019 recipient of Brandeis University’s Creative Arts Award and is a trustee of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
This outdoor sculpture installation is made possible by generous support provided by Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Jones of The Wayne and Carolyn Jones Charitable Foundation, Cathy and Buddy Jenrette, Middleton Outdoor Sculpture Fund, Ms. Kathryn P. Salmanowitz of The Harold Salmonwitz Charitable Lead Annuity Trust and The Kathryn P. Salmanowitz Donor Advised Fund, South Carolina Arts Commission, Bank of America, Lynch Cracraft Wealth Management of Raymond James, Ms. Elizabeth Saal of the Joseph J. Schott Foundation, Jill and Richard Almeida, Jane and Allan Anderson, Emma and George Christopher of The Emma and George Christopher Charitable Fund, Nicole and Amir Dan Rubin, Southern Land Company, Cynthia and Ronald Thompson, Martie and David Adams, Kathleen and Bob Carroll, Janet Hopkins, Deborah Kennedy Kennard and William Kennard of The Kennard Kennedy Family Fund
Special thanks to American College of the Building Arts, City of Charleston, Evans and Schmidt Architects, Pace Gallery and Spoleto Festival USA.
About the Gibbes Museum of Art
Home to the Carolina Art Association, established in 1858, the Gibbes Museum of Art is recognized among the oldest arts organizations in the United States. Housing one of the foremost collections of American Art from the 18th century to the present, the museum’s mission is to enhance lives through art by engaging people of every background and experience with art and artists of enduring quality and by providing opportunities to learn, to discover, to enjoy and to be inspired by the creative process. For more information, visit www.gibbesmuseum.org.