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Charles Gaines on Philosophy and Politics in Conceptual Art

July 29th, 2019

American artist Charles Gaines has been delving into philosophy, abstraction and mathematics to address politics and race since the 1970s. In August 2019, Gaines receives the 60th Annual Edward MacDowell Medal, an award celebrating his high achievements in visual art, musical composition and performance, and his influence as a teacher, writer and curator. An artist whose work is described as formulating the DNA of the conceptual movement, Gaines is a key figure in contemporary art history.

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Gaines was the first African American accepted into the School of Art and Design MFA program at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He now lives and works in Los Angeles. He’s been a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, for more than three decades.

As Charles Gaines prepares for high profile exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco and London, through 2022, we reflect on what his art says to the world. Resolutely abstract in his practice, Charles Gaines refuses traditional representation—resisting both dominant racial stereotypes, and pressure from within the black community. His gridworks and manifestos deliberately counter deep-seated assumptions about the forms that nature and culture, art and music should take. Gaines shows us how art can embody conceptual, aesthetic, and personal freedom.

This episode features conversations recorded with Charles Gaines in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

About the MacDowell Medal: A Haven for Artists since 1907, the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, was the first artist residency program established in the United States. Each year, the MacDowell Medal recognizes one individual for outstanding contributions to American arts and culture. Merce Cunningham, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Sonny Rollins, and Toni Morrison are among past honorees.

Sound Editor: Anamnesis Audio | Special Audio: Charles Gaines, Manifestos performance, 56th Venice Art Biennale

Related Episodes: Mark Bradford Connects Art with the Real WorldContemporary Art and the Black Imagination

Related Links: Charles Gaines | MacDowell Honors Visual Artist‎Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida CollectionCharles Gaines, Institute of Contemporary Art, MiamiCharles Gaines, The Studio Museum in HarlemBiennale Arte 2015, All the World's Futures