“I remember well when the shadow swept across me, I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards–ten cents a package–and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card, refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.”

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Soul of Black Folk.

Since April 2016, Renée Green’s seminal installation Bequest (1991) is on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; the installation is part of Less Than One, “an international, multigenerational group show offering in-depth presentations of work from the 1960s to the present by 16 artists central to the Walker’s collection.”

Invited in 1990 by the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts to create a work based on their collection, Bequest is a layered, multisensorial installation occupying a whole room; via the combination of color, structures, text and sound, the artist set out to explore the idea of nation and its narration. In Bequest, the focus is on the United States and the different ways in which its identity has been shaped by literary works. Exploring archetypical figures that recur in the writings of Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and W. E. B. Du Bois, and employing architectural structures and colors reminiscent of New England, the installation invites the audience to consider a variety of questions: from the way in which museums establish a national identity through acquisitions or “bequests,” to the role that literary tropes and binaries such as “whiteness/blackness” or “good/evil” perpetuate ideology constructs, and shape, even now, how one understands the world.

In addition to Bequest, Less Than One also presents Green’s more recent installation, Space Poem #4 (2013). Other artists in the exhibition include Joan Jonas, Sigmar Polke, Jasper Jones, Lutz Bacher, Dieter Roth, Paul Chan, and Ericka Beckman, among many others.

Less Than One is curated by Fionn Meade with Victoria Sung, and is on view until December 31, 2016.

“The raven by its blackness represents the prince of darkness. Sin and sorrow and death are all in Scripture represented by darkness or the color black, but the Devil is the father of sin, a most foul and wicked spirit, and the presence of death and misery.”

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notebooks.

More information: Less Than One