Presented by Creative Time, Governors Island, and Times Square Arts, The American Manifest is Charles Gaines’s first public art project, unfolding in three parts over the course of two years across three sites — Times Square, Governors Island, and the banks of the Ohio river in Cincinnati. Featuring both performance and large-scale sculptural works, The American Manifest tells the complicated story of the over 400-year settlement of the United States, focusing on the country’s foundations of colonialism, racial capitalism, democracy, and the legacy of Manifest Destiny. Staged in three chapters, The American Manifest begins in Times Square with a performance-based installation and sculptural series of seven Sweetgum trees.
CHAPTER ONE: TIMES SQUARE
Manifestos 4: The Dred and Harriet Scott Decision
July 13 & 14, 2022 | 7pm
Registration for free tickets will open Tuesday, June 28. While seating is limited, there is ample standing room throughout Duffy Square and on the Red Steps.
Featuring a woodwind quintet, piano, and tenor, Manifestos 4: The Dred and Harriet Scott Decision is a performance-based installation in which Gaines transforms the original text of the landmark 1857 U.S. Supreme Court case of Dred Scott vs. Sanford, which denied U.S. citizenship to people of African ancestry. Many see the ruling as one of the most controversial decisions of the Supreme Court, authorizing racism and irrevocably altering the course of the country’s social, cultural, and political evolution. In his return to this historical court case and its trial documents, Gaines places the inextricable legacy of slave labor in our nation’s economy directly in the center of modern-day capitalism and commerce — Times Square.
The 5-part performance builds upon the artist’s Manifestos series, in which he disarms and draws upon historical texts, uniting the rational, mathematical, and lyrical structures of music with the irrationality of violence, racial tensions, and social injustice. To create the musical composition, Gaines uses a rule-based methodology, transcribing letters ‘A – H’ from the texts into their equivalent musical notes (with the use of the letter ‘H’ representing the code used in early Baroque tradition for B-flat). While the resulting composition sounds intentional and fluid, it is ultimately controlled by the predetermined notation system and the structure of language. Past Manifestos compositions have converted speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panther Party, and Malcolm X, as well as writings by James Baldwin, Taiaiake Alfred, and Olympe de Gouges.
Credits for Manifestos 4: The Dred and Harriet Scott Decision
Composed by Charles Gaines
Arrangements by Charles Gaines and John Eagle
Vocals: Darian Clonts
Piano: David Friend
Flute: Gina Izzo
Clarinet: Ian Tyson
Bassoon: Joy Guidry
French Horn: Eric C. Davis
Music Director: John Eagle
Producer: Madeline Falcone
July 13 – September 23, 2022
On view in the center of Times Square’s most iconic plaza, Duffy Square, Rootsis a sculptural installation of seven American Sweetgum trees, painted and presented with the root systems intact and upside down to a surreal and dystopic effect. Sweetgum trees, indigenous to the eastern United States and much more populous throughout the region that eventually became Times Square, are known for their impressive root systems that require vast open spaces to grow.
Images of trees have figured prominently in Gaines’s practice since the mid-1970s, when he first began plotting their forms through a system of color-coded, numbered grids — a process that became central to his decades-long practice of interrogating the relationship between the object and subjectivity. Roots marks both a continuation of this decade’s long investigation, and Gaines’s first foray into working with trees directly in their natural, three-dimensional form.
CHAPTER TWO: GOVERNORS ISLAND
October 2022 – June 2023
Presented as the second chapter of The American Manifest, sited at the base of Outlook Hill on Governors Island with views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Lower Manhattan, Moving Chains — a 100 foot-long immersive, kinetic sculpture — evokes the hull of a ship reverberating with the low rumble of nine chains churning overhead, while visitors pass through below. Eight of the chains move along at the pace of New York Harbor’s currents, while a central ninth chain moves noticeably faster, at the speed of the ships and barges that have traveled the city’s waterways over centuries. Moving Chains illuminates the exchange of people, capital, and goods cycling between the north and south that made up the slave trade, while calling attention to the political, judicial, and economic operations established in this country’s foundational financial system.
CHAPTER THREE: CINCINNATI, OHIO
The American Manifest
Staged on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, the third chapter of The American Manifest further interrogates the geographies of the complex and ongoing systems of racial capitalism and colonialism. The Ohio River has historically represented both a route to liberation, as the one-time gateway between slave and “free soil” states, as well as a historic route used to transport enslaved persons to the infamous port of New Orleans. The project’s journey to this location from New York makes a final connection between the notion of people as property – federally recognized in the case of Dred Scott – and the era of Manifest Destiny and westward expansion, built upon the belief that the American West landscape was the rightful property of the United States government.
ABOUT CHARLES GAINES
A pivotal figure in the field of conceptual art, Charles Gaines’s body of work engages formulas and systems that interrogate relationships between the objective and the subjective realms. Using a generative approach to create series of works in a variety of mediums, he has built a bridge between the early conceptual artists of the 1960s and 1970s and subsequent generations of artists pushing the limits of conceptualism today. Gaines lives and works in Los Angeles. He recently retired from the CalArts School of Art, where he was on faculty for over 30 years and established a fellowship to provide critical scholarship support for Black students in the M.F.A. Art program. He has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in the United States and around the world, most notably a mid-career survey at the Pomona College Museum of Art and the Pitzer College Art Gallery in Claremont CA, as well as a museum survey of his Gridwork at The Studio Museum, Harlem NY, and Hammer Museum, Los Angeles CA. His work has also been presented at the 1975 Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 2007 and 2015. An exhibition of his work is currently on long term view at Dia:Beacon in New York. In addition to his artistic practice, Gaines has published several essays on contemporary art, including ‘Theater of Refusal: Black Art and Mainstream Criticism’ (University of California, Irvine, 1993) and ‘The New Cosmopolitanism’ (California State University, Fullerton, 2008). 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 will be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2022.
ABOUT CREATIVE TIME
Since 1974, Creative Time has commissioned and presented ambitious public art projects with thousands of artists throughout New York City, across the country, around the world—even in outer space. The organization’s work is guided by three core values: art matters, artists’ voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression. Creative Time is acclaimed for the innovative and meaningful projects they have commissioned, from Tribute in Light, the twin beacons of light that illuminated lower Manhattan six months after 9/11, to bus ads promoting HIV awareness, to Paul Chan’s production of Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, and much more. In partnership with a variety of well-known cultural institutions and community groups, Creative Time has commissioned art in unique landmark sites from the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Governors Island, and the High Line, to neglected urban treasures like the Lower East Side’s historic Essex Street Market, Coney Island, and New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward. Creative Time is committed to presenting important art for our times and engaging broad audiences that transcend geographic, racial, and socioeconomic barriers.
ABOUT GOVERNORS ISLAND ARTS
Governors Island Arts, the public arts and cultural program presented by the Trust for Governors Island creates transformative encounters with art for all New Yorkers, inviting artists and researchers to engage with the issues of our time in the context of the Island’s layered histories, environments, and architecture. We achieve this mission through:
Public Art Commissions: Long term and temporary works from multidisciplinary artists that are sited within Governors Island’s park and historic landscapes
Organizations in Residence: An annual open call inviting cultural organizations to present exhibitions, hold free public programs and host artist residencies within the Island’s historic former military houses.
Public Programs: Free events and programs, often presented in partnership with a diverse range of NYC cultural organizations.
A special thank you to Morgan Stanley and mediaThe Foundation, inc., as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Hochul and the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council for making Roots and Manifestos 4: The Dred and Harriet Scott Decision possible in Times Square.
Charles Gaines: The American Manifest is made possible in New York and Cincinnati by the visionary support of the Ford Foundation, Lambent Foundation, VIA Art Fund, FotoFocus, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Charina Endowment Fund, Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, Morgan Stanley, and mediaThe Foundation, inc.
Major support is provided by Hauser & Wirth, Jacob and Deborah Kotzubei, Bob and Renee Parsons, Sanjeev Rathi, Christopher Walker, Debi and Steven Wisch, and Anonymous.
They are also grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Arts; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; and the New York State Council on the Artswith the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.