Charles Gaines (artist)

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Charles Gaines (born 1944) is an American artist whose work interrogates the discourse of aesthetics, politics, and philosophy. Taking the form of drawings, photographic series and video installations, the work consistently involves the use of systems, predominantly in the form of the grid, often in combination with photography. His work is rooted in Conceptual Art – in dialogue with artists such as Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner and Mel Bochner – and Gaines is committed to its tenets of engaging cognition and language. As one of the only African-American conceptual artists working in the 1970s, a time when political expressionism was a prevailing concern among African-American artists, Gaines was an outlier in his pursuit of abstraction and non-didactic approach to race and politics.[1] There is a strong musical thread running through much of Gaines' work, evident in his repeated use of musical scores[2] as well in his engagement with the idea of indeterminacy, as similar to John Cage.

Early life and education[edit]

Charles Gaines was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He received a BA from Jersey City State College in 1966, and earned his MFA in 1967 as the first African American to be accepted into the MFA program at the School of Art and Design at the Rochester Institute of Technology. From 1967 to 1990 he was a professor of art at California State University Fresno. Since 1989, he been a faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, influencing many young artists who studied with him, including Edgar Arceneaux.[3] In 2008 Gaines taught at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California.


In Motion: Trisha Brown Dance (1981), Gaines photographed postmodern dancer Trisha Brown performing the piece Son of Gone Fishin'. Numbering the spaces in a grid that correspond with the body in motion, and overlaying another grid drawing for each image in the series, Gaines seeks to transcribe the moving body in a way that the photograph cannot. In doing so, he also creates an erasure of the body's distinguishing contours – aligning with Trisha Brown's embrace of structures that obscure themselves.[4]

  • Explosions
  • History of Stars
  • Shadows
  • Walnut Tree Orchard
  • String Theory
  • Manifestos
  • Sound Text (2015)


After his first New York City exhibition at Cinque Gallery[5][6] in 1972, Charles Gaines was included in the 1975 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. In the 1980s, Charles Gaines was represented by and had solo exhibitions at Leo Castelli Gallery and John Weber Gallery[7] in New York. He has shown at Margo Leavin Gallery in Los Angeles,[8] Young Hoffman in Chicago, Richard Heller Gallery in San Francisco, and Galerie Lavignes-Bastille in Paris, among others. In 2006 Gaines began to exhibit with Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and in 2014 with Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Most recently, he was included in 56th Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor in 2015. His work has been included in other major group exhibitions, including the 2007 Venice Biennale, "Blues for Smoke" (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2012) and Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960 – 1980, curated by Kellie Jones at the Hammer Museum and Under the Big Black Sun: 1974–1981, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles which was curated by Paul Schimmel.s part of the 2011 Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative, Gaines was featured in two prominent Los Angeles exhibitions:

In 2012 the Pomona College Museum of Art and the Pitzer Art Gallery, Pomona and Claremont, CA, exhibited In The Shadow of Numbers, Charles Gaines Selected Works from 1975 to 2012[9] which involved a collaborative musical performance with Terry Adkins. Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974–1999,[10] the artist's first survey exhibition, was organized by The Studio Museum in Harlem in July 2014.


Gaines received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grant in 1977. He received a California Community Foundation (CCF)[11] in 2011, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013.


Gaines has written a number of academic texts including: Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism[12] (UC Irvine, 1993); Art, Post History and the Paradox of Black Pluralism, Merge, 12 (2004); "Reconsidering Metaphor/Metonymy: Art and the Suppression of Thought", Art Lies, Issue 64 (Winter/2009); "Ben Patterson: The History of Gray Matter From the Avant-garde to the Postmodern", a catalog essay for an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (November 2010); and Kerry James Marshall, London: Phaidon Press, 2017.

Selected collections[edit]

  • Charles Gaines at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN


  1. ^ Gaines, Charles (December 14, 2011). "Interview with Charles Gaines by Leila Hamidi". Notes on Looking: Contemporary Arts in Los Angeles. Retrieved March 17, 2012. One of the problems I had is that black political expressionism became a very dominant idea among black artists in the late 60s and early 70s and I did abstract work and there was no place for me. 
  2. ^ Phillips, Rowan Ricardo (September 24, 2013). "Charles Gaines". Artforum International. 
  3. ^ "Charles Gaines | Faculty/Staff Directory". Retrieved December 8, 2016. 
  4. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna (October 19, 1981). "Dance: Trisha Brown and Her Artist Friends". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "Cinque gallery records, 1959–2010". Archives of American Art. Retrieved January 28, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Recent Paintings of Charles Gaines as Cinque Gallery". New York Amsterdam News. 1 (7). April 1972. 
  7. ^ Smith, Roberta. "John Weber, 75, Contemporary-Art Dealer, Is Dead". New York Times online. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  8. ^ Holte, Michael Ned (October 2011). "Differential Equations". Artforum International. 50 (2). 
  9. ^ "In the Shadow of Numbers". Pomona College Museum of Art. Archived from the original on November 15, 2014. Retrieved September 13, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Charles Gaines – The Studio Museum in Harlem". 
  11. ^ "Charles Gaines". California Community Foundation. 2016. Archived from the original on June 9, 2016. 
  12. ^ The Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism. Irvine, California: Irvine Fine Arts Gallery University of California. 1993. pp. 11, 12 ,56. ISBN 1884355005. 

External links[edit]