Mining the Museum Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Jan 19 1993

When Fred Wilson did an installation at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992, he shook up the museum world. Co-sponsored by the historical society and the Contemporary Museum, Mining the Museum did not involve artwork made by the artist; rather, it involved reinstalling items from the historical society's collection in such a way as to make us reconsider them.

People expected to see the society's rich holdings of silver on display, but it was startling to see silver made for 19th-century Maryland households installed next to iron slave shackles. The juxtaposition forced you to confront the fact that many of the wealthy white Marylanders who owned this silver also owned the African-American slaves who polished it.

Mining the Museum brilliantly brought out how African-Americans had been treated, mistreated, and most often simply ignored in conventional museum displays of art and the decorative arts. The exhibit brought Wilson national exposure and resulted in similar museum-curatorial-practice-rattling shows at other museums around the country.

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