It’s been a bad couple months for Brooklyn-based artists with high-profile commissions in other cities. First Tom Otterness lost a major sculpture project in San Francisco last month over controversy surrounding his 1977 dog killing, and now Fred Wilson’s plan for a monument to an unknown African American figure in Indianapolis has been canceled after a prolonged battle.
Wilson was first approached by the Central Indiana Community Foundation in 2007 about creating a public sculpture for the city’s downtown monument collection (second only, in the U.S., to Washington D.C.’s). His proposal involved replicating the only African American character in any of downtown Indianapolis’s monuments—in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument—and turning him into his own monument, “E Pluribus Unum,” which would be seated in a similar pose, but holding a flag featuring the flag of every country touched by the African Diaspora.
But yesterday, after a long and embattled design, proposal and public review process, Modern Art Notes reported that the CICF had canceled the project all together. In a subsequent interview with MAN, Wilson said:
I’m disappointed, but that’s as much as I can say at this time about their ultimate decision. I am glad that Indianapolis took it seriously and talked as much about the issues of identity and about the power of the visual image as they did. [...] Ultimately I felt it was the decision of the community there to make a determination, and it seemed that some people had differing thoughts about it.
Asked about whether this experience has soured him to public art commissions Wilson said:
If you ask me now, no I don’t think I’ll be doing another public commission because I just really, honestly do put everything I have into these things. I had not really wanted to do these at all actually, but when I was approached to do this one, but this was something I could really sink my teeth into. [...] I would say that I’m not going to seek out public commissions, but that’s my feeling at the moment. We’ll see what comes down the pike. I never say never, right?
Indeed. For the time being, here’s an illuminating video of Wilson explaining his vision for “E Pluribus Unum”: