National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Exchange Fred Wilson (artist)
American, born 1954
Crown Point Press (publisher)
Exchange, 2004
color aquatint, spitbite aquatint and direct gravure on wove Somerset paper
plate: 50.5 x 60.7 cm (19 7/8 x 23 7/8 in.) sheet: 77.5 x 86.5 cm (30 1/2 x 34 1/16 in.)
Gift of Kathan Brown
Not on View
From the Tour: African American Artists: Collection Highlights
Object 18 of 22

The conversation bubbles in Exchange feature phrases spoken by black characters in works of literature as varied as Arthur Miller's The Crucible, William Shakespeare's Othello, and Norman Mailer's An American Dream. However different the language and their corresponding characters, the words are all the invention of white writers. These literary representations of blacks occupy the voices of the many spots and splashes in Exchange. The spots, symbolic of black people, speak to one another, revealing different personalities, desires, problems, and ideas. By selecting phrases that represent a notion of blackness according to the white writers, artist Fred Wilson comments on the misleading nature of our collective understanding of Africans and African-Americans.

Spitbite aquatint, the printmaking technique Wilson used in Exchange, creates physical and conceptual depth, giving the spots a three-dimensional quality. The layers of spots suggest the layers of African and African-American history, often misunderstood and misrepresented. Since the conversation bubbles give voice to only a few of the spots, Exchange also alludes to the countless others, today and in the past, who remain unheard.

Phrases inside the conversation bubbles include:

  • Take me home, Devil! Take me home! (Arthur Miller. The Crucible)
  • No, no, master will never do that... (Herman Melville. Benito Cereno)
  • Yeah, freedom, baby! Freedom! (Mart Crowley. The Boys in the Band)
  • I adore you. (Shelagh Delaney. A Taste of Honey, Boy)
  • O my fair warrior! (William Shakespeare. Othello)
  • Man, let's get cool and enjoy each other. (Norman Mailer. An American Dream)
  • Kiss me, sweets. (Norman Mailer. An American Dream)
  • Why do you run 'way from me pretty boy? (Eugene O'Neill. Moon of the Caribees)
  • I'm just the future, in love with myself, that's the future. (Norman Mailer. An American Dream)
  • Listen, baby, you don't leave me. I'll cut out your heart. (Norman Mailer. An American Dream)
  • I can move in slow motion, can't I? (Jean Genet The Blacks: a clown show)
  • Why do you let him talk to you that way? (Mart Crowley. The Boys in the Band)
  • I'm too pretty to rumble, and that's a fact. (Norman Mailer. An American Dream)
  • You're such a fag. You take the cake. (Mart Crowley. The Boys in the Band)
  • Tell me about it. (Athol Fugard. A lesson from Aloes)
  • I think I loved him all my life, but he never knew I was alive. Besides, he's straight. (Mart Crowley. The Boys in the Band)
  • Ja, I could see that. (Athol Fugard. Master Harold and the Boys)
  • No use'n you rakin' up ole times. (Eugene O'Neill. The Emperor Jones)
  • Full Screen Image
    Artist Information (Case Hudson)
    Artist Information (Crown Point Press)
    Artist Information (Fred Wilson)
    Artist Information (Rachel Stevenson)
    Exhibition History

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