Museum Without Walls: Sarah Wilson

This month, the de Young begins its second installment of the Artist Fellows program, which brings working artists from a variety of disciplines into the museum for a year. During this year, Artist Fellows will break open their art process by exhibiting works-in-progress and investigating new avenues of creativity through collaboration with the museum, partner institutions and other artists.

Each artist is associated with a collaborating institutional partner, an aspect of the program specifically designed to encourage museum engagement with local, community based arts organizations. Working both within and without the walls, the Artist Fellows will inhabit a new kind of museum, one without walls. In celebration of this next phase of the Artist Fellows program, we will focus on these extra-museum collaborations in a blog series called Museum Without Walls.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson. Photo © Lenny Gonzalez 2010

The inaugural 2012 Artist Fellow is composer, trumpeter and singer-songwriter Sarah Wilson. Wilson has been involved with the Fine Arts Museums’ growing live music scene since 2008 as part of the Jazz at Intersection at the de Young series. One of seven composers commissioned to write and perform a new song in response to the de Young's permanent collections, Wilson wrote She Stands in a Room inspired by Nicolas Africano’s Untitled sculpture, currently on display in Gallery 5A.

Listen to She Stands in a Room here: [swf file="files/audio/she_stands_wilson.mp3"]

Nicolas Africano (American, b. 1948). Untitled, 2006. Cast glass. Partial gift of Dorothy and George Saxe to the Fine Arts Museums Foundation. 2008.75.4

Wilson’s fellowship at the de Young is supported by partner organizations Stags' Leap Winery and Z Space. In keeping with the concept of a Museum Without Walls, Wilson’s fellowship actually began last November during a residency at the beautiful Stags' Leap Winery in Napa, California. The winery has been a gathering place for creative-types since 1893, and for the past 20 years has sponsored its own Artist in Residence program for poets, musicians and visual artists from across the country. In 2011, Stags' Leap Winery approached the de Young interested in collaborative opportunities, and Wilson seemed the perfect artist to launch the new partnership. During her Stags' Leap residency, Wilson was inspired by the color, light and drama of the Napa Valley, which she integrated into new music that will be performed at both Stags' Leap and the de Young later this year.

Stags Leap Winery

Stags' Leap Winery. Photo by Sarah Wilson.

It's not unusual for Wilson to find inspiration in her surroundings, and sometimes it happens in the most surprising, organic way. Another phase of Wilson’s fellowship will be conducted in cooperation with C. Derrick Jones and Nehara Kalev of the aerial dance duo Catch Me Bird, whom Wilson met while participating in the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

Catch Me Bird

Catch Me Bird Dance | Theater | Reality Performance, Iron, 2010. Photo by Martin Cohen

That they were impressed by each others work was foreseeable, but more serendipitous is that their collaboration led them to the painting, Aspiration. A de Young Collections Icon, Aspiration was created by none other than Jones' great uncle and Harlem Renaissance leader Aaron Douglas, and has become the portal for a  performance they will create together. Entitled Off the Walls, this performance will bring to life Douglas’s painting in dance and movement, literally taking the art off the walls.


Aaron Douglas (American, 1899–1979). Aspiration, 1936. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase, the estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs Jr., the Museum Society Auxiliary, American Art Trust Fund, Unrestricted Art Trust Fund, partial gift of Dr. Ernest A. Bates, Sharon Bell, Jo-Ann Beverly, Barbara Carleton, Dr. And Mrs. Arthur H. Coleman, Dr. and Mrs. Coyness Ennix, Jr., Nicole Y. Ennix, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Francois, Dennis L. Franklin, Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell C. Gillette, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Goodyear, Zuretti L. Goosby, Marion E. Greene, Mrs. Vivian S. W. Hambrick, Laurie Gibbs Harris, Arlene Hollis, Louis A. and Letha Jeanpierre, Daniel and Jackie Johnson, Jr., Stephen L. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Lathan, Lewis & Ribbs Mortuary Garden Chapel, Mr. and Mrs. Gary Love, Glenn R. Nance, Mr. and Mrs. Harry S. Parker III, Mr. and Mrs. Carr T. Preston, Fannie Preston, Pamela R. Ransom, Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin F. Reed, San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Chapter of Links, Inc., San Francisco Chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Dr. Ella Mae Simmons, Mr. Calvin R. Swinson, Joseph B. Williams, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred S. Wilsey, and the people of the Bay Area. 1997.84

Z Space, Wilson’s second collaborative partner, is an incredible organization that presents dance and theater. During July, Wilson and Catch Me Bird will develop their work on the ground in the de Young Artist Studio. They will then move to Z Space (formerly the Theater Artaud) where the team will focus on the aerial aspect of the performance, fine tuning every detail from the trusses and lighting, to perfecting fast-flying acrobatics, to refining each musical note.

The final production of Off the Walls will premiere at the de Young on September 21 and 22 (stay tuned for details). In the meantime, the artists are off to Djerassi as alumni Resident Artists. Continuing the Museum Without Walls series, we'll follow them there in February to witness the beginning of their spectacular work together.

For more on Sarah Wilson, please enjoy this interview: