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August 11, 2023

Acquisition: Charles Gaines

Charles Gaines, "Numbers and Trees: Palm Canyon, Palm Series 4, Tree #2, Kitanemuk", from the suite of 4 prints, "Numbers and Trees: Palm Canyon, Palm Series 4"

Charles Gaines
Numbers and Trees: Palm Canyon, Palm Series 4, Tree #2, Kitanemuk, from the suite of 4 prints, Numbers and Trees: Palm Canyon, Palm Series 4, 2021
color aquatint printed chine collé over aquatint on paper, mounted to foamcore with screenprinted acrylic box
overall: 165.1 x 88.9 x 8.89 cm (65 x 35 x 3 1/2 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Eugene L. and Marie-Louise Garbáty Fund and William A. Clark Fund

A pivotal figure in the field of conceptual art, Charles Gaines (b. 1944) is celebrated for the photographs, drawings, and works on paper in which he investigated how rules-based procedures construct order and meaning. Gaines bridges the early conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s and the subsequent generations of artists who are pushing the limits of conceptualism today. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Numbers and Trees: Palm Canyon, Palm Series 4, Tree #2, Kitanemuk (2021) from the suite of four prints titled Numbers and Trees: Palm Canyon, Palm Series 4.

For Gaines, trees embody unique characteristics of the land in which they grow, the climate, and the passage of time. In the series Numbers and Trees: Palm Canyon, Palm Series 4, Gaines employs his signature approach: he uses mathematical and numeric systems to guide his handwritten numbers and marks on a grid that is circumscribed by the outline of a tree. Printed in different colors, each image in the series builds upon the calculations of the last. Each image is overlaid sequentially until the final work is a composite of them all. Every square of the grid contains a small amount of color or colors. When viewed together, the grids represent part of a larger image of three overlapping palm trees. As the series progresses, the cumulative data distinguishes the unique and shared characteristics of the individual trees. Reducing visual information to a grid and numeric pattern separates the information into a structure apart from the immediacy of human visual experience. Reinforcing this construct with an illusion of depth, Gaines encases each print within a plexiglass box on which the form of an additional grided tree has been printed. The aggregate of layers encourages the viewer to consider the multiple modalities in which trees exist over time.

This series offers a microscopic and macroscopic examination of Southern California’s iconic palm trees. Gaines’s titles for this series include the tribal names of Indigenous peoples who inhabited Palm Canyon in Southern California. Tree #2, Kitanemuk refers to the Kitanemuk people who lived in the Tehachapi Mountains and Antelope Valley area of the western Mojave Desert.  

Born in 1944 in Charleston, South Carolina, Charles Gaines received an MFA from the School of Art and Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1967. He recently retired from the CalArts School of Art, where he taught for over 30 years and established a fellowship to provide critical scholarship support for Black students in the MFA art program. He has participated in numerous exhibitions in the United States and internationally, and his work is in prominent public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Gaines’s work was presented at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2015. In 2019, Gaines received the 60th Edward MacDowell Medal. He was inducted into the National Academy of Design’s 2020 class of National Academicians and into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2022. Moving Chains, Gaines’s most recent public art project with Creative Time, opened to great acclaim in October 2022 on Governors Island, New York, along with an operatic performance and a series of sculptures in Times Square. An exhibition of his work is currently on long-term view at Dia Beacon in Beacon, New York. In addition to his artistic practice, Gaines has published several essays on contemporary art.

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