Announc­ing Charles Gaines’s First Pub­lic Art Project, The Amer­i­can Manifest”


Pre­sent­ed by Cre­ative Time, Gov­er­nors Island Arts, and Times Square Arts

Debut­ing in New York this sum­mer, a series of new art­works con­tends with the over 400-year set­tle­ment of the Unit­ed States and its ongo­ing lega­cies of colo­nial­ism and racial capitalism

Cre­ative Time, Gov­er­nors Island Arts, and Times Square Arts are pleased to present the first pub­lic art exhi­bi­tion by Charles Gaines, The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest. The seri­al­ized pub­lic art instal­la­tion will unfold in three parts, or chap­ters, across three loca­tions over the course of two years — Times Square, Gov­er­nors Island, and Cincin­nati. The project will debut in New York City on July 13, 2022 in Times Square with a new iter­a­tion of the artist’s pio­neer­ing Man­i­festos per­for­mances cou­pled with an instal­la­tion of sculp­tures of the com­plex root sys­tems of the Amer­i­can Sweet­gum tree on view through the sum­mer. Mov­ing Chains, a mon­u­men­tal, kinet­ic sculp­tur­al work sit­ed on Gov­er­nors Island in New York Har­bor opens next in ear­ly Octo­ber 2022 before jour­ney­ing to the banks of the Ohio Riv­er in Cincin­nati in the sum­mer of 2023.

Trac­ing the flow of these north­east­ern water­ways — the his­tor­i­cal­ly charged rivers and ports of New York City and Cincinnati’s Ohio Riv­er, which are not often con­sid­ered in rela­tion to each oth­er — Gaines offers a mul­ti­fac­eted inter­ro­ga­tion of the dual role of the north­ern states in both main­tain­ing and abol­ish­ing slav­ery, and the endur­ing impli­ca­tions of the racial­ized sys­tems, myths, and log­ics that under­pin the nation’s eco­nom­ic and legal foun­da­tions that per­sist today. Through large-scale son­ic and sculp­tur­al works, the project grap­ples with the entan­gled sys­tems of prop­er­ty, cit­i­zen­ship, dis­place­ment, and free­dom that enables and fur­thers racial cap­i­tal­ism, a mech­a­nism for enforc­ing white suprema­cy in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Gaines’s work for The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest orig­i­nates with the 1857 Dred and Har­ri­et Scott his­toric Supreme Court deci­sion, which decreed that peo­ple of African ances­try were not U.S. cit­i­zens and there­fore could not sue for their right to free­dom, and demands the view­er con­tend with the lega­cies and after­lives of chat­tel slav­ery, Man­i­fest Des­tiny, and colonialism. 

By explor­ing the Dred and Har­ri­et Scott Deci­sion, The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest is intend­ed both crit­i­cal­ly and poet­i­cal­ly to unpack the com­plex­i­ty of Amer­i­ca’s human­ist ideals. It is intend­ed to take us through the slip­pery con­tra­dic­tions that make up the Amer­i­can nar­ra­tive,” said Charles Gaines.

Charles Gaines has been a piv­otal fig­ure in con­cep­tu­al art for the past five decades, known for his body of work engag­ing for­mu­las and sys­tems that inter­ro­gate rela­tion­ships between the objec­tive and the sub­jec­tive realms. The con­cept of iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics has played a cen­tral role with­in Gaines’s oeu­vre, and the rad­i­cal approach he employs address­es issues of race in ways that tran­scend the lim­its of representation.

The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest is a sharp look at the his­to­ry of the Unit­ed States and how our laden past man­i­fests in our con­tem­po­rary strug­gles. It is only through an inter­ro­ga­tion and under­stand­ing of these entan­gled his­to­ries that we may face our sys­temic soci­etal ills,” said Cre­ative Time Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Jus­tine Lud­wig.


Sit­ed with­in two key cities whose his­to­ries have shaped the iden­ti­ty of Amer­i­ca, this project invites the pub­lic to con­sid­er New York and Cincinnati’s water­ways’ in both uphold­ing slav­ery and secur­ing lib­er­a­tion, a dual­i­ty that chal­lenges reduc­tive nar­ra­tives of the his­to­ry and lega­cy of slav­ery in Amer­i­ca. Times Square, often called the cross­roads of the world,” exists as a glob­al emblem of cap­i­tal­ism, com­merce, and media, with over 300,000 dai­ly pedes­tri­ans. Five miles away, in the mid­dle of the New York Har­bor, Gov­er­nors Island feels com­par­a­tive­ly serene. The island played an inte­gral role in the city’s eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal his­to­ry; it served as a Lenape fish­ing and hunt­ing camp, an ear­ly colo­nial Dutch set­tle­ment, a home for the British rul­ing Gov­er­nors and, lat­er, a U.S. Mil­i­tary and Coast Guard base from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War until the late 1990s, before becom­ing pub­licly acces­si­ble in the mid-2000s. Halfway across the coun­try, Cincinnati’s John G. and Phyl­lis W. Smale River­front Park con­nects down­town Cincin­nati to the Ohio Riv­er, which his­tor­i­cal­ly served as a demar­ca­tion point and trans­porta­tion route between south­ern slave states and the free states in the north.


Times Square, New York | July 13 – Sep­tem­ber 232022

Broad­way and 46th St, Duffy Square

The project orig­i­nates in Times Square with a per­for­mance-based instal­la­tion, Man­i­festos 4: The Dred and Har­ri­et Scott Deci­sion, and sculp­tur­al instal­la­tion, Roots.

Con­tin­u­ing Gaines’s Man­i­festos series, and specif­i­cal­ly build­ing upon his Man­i­festos 4 com­po­si­tion with the cre­ation of a new vocal arrange­ment, this per­for­mance trans­forms the orig­i­nal text of the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred and Har­ri­et Scott his­toric deci­sion, which decreed that peo­ple of African ances­try were not U.S. cit­i­zens and there­fore could not sue for their right to free­dom. Fea­tur­ing a wood­wind quin­tet, piano and tenor, the 5‑part per­for­mance will be staged on July 13 and July 14 in America’s mod­ern-day com­mer­cial cross­roads, Times Square. 

Roots, on view from July 13 through Sep­tem­ber 23, 2022, con­sists of a series of sev­en Amer­i­can Sweet­gum trees, pre­sent­ed with the root sys­tems upside down and paint­ed to a sur­re­al and dystopic effect. The trees, which were indige­nous to the east­ern Unit­ed States and grew in Times Square, a forest­ed area and beaver pond pri­or to col­o­niza­tion, are known for their impres­sive root sys­tems that require vast open spaces to grow.

We are incred­i­bly hon­ored to launch the first chap­ter of Charles Gaines’s mon­u­men­tal, mul­ti-sit­ed exhi­bi­tion with works that call upon both Indige­nous his­to­ries and present day sym­bol­ism of Times Square to tell the sto­ry of our country’s com­plex lega­cies,” said Times Square Arts Direc­tor Jean Cooney.


Gov­er­nors Island, New York | Octo­ber 2022 – June 2023

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. Com­pli­cat­ing nar­ra­tives of slav­ery that eas­i­ly demar­cate north­ern virtue and south­ern sin, Mov­ing Chains illu­mi­nates the exchange of peo­ple, cap­i­tal, and goods between the north and south, call­ing atten­tion to the nation’s eco­nom­ic, judi­cial, and polit­i­cal frame­works that con­tin­ue to shape the lives and define the free­doms of Amer­i­cans today.

The sec­ond chap­ter in Charles Gaines’s mon­u­men­tal project The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest, Mov­ing Chains is a his­toric work that we are hum­bled to present on Gov­er­nors Island, a site whose land­scape is inter­twined with the sto­ries and strug­gles of New Har­bor and the water­ways that have defined this nation’s past, present, and future,” said Mered­ith John­son, VP of Arts and Cul­ture and Head Cura­tor at the Trust for Gov­er­nors Island. We are hon­ored to present Charles Gaines’s piv­otal work on Gov­er­nors Island, and look for­ward to wel­com­ing vis­i­tors and all New York­ers to engage through a dynam­ic cal­en­dar of pub­lic pro­grams,” added Clare New­man, Pres­i­dent and CEO of the Trust for Gov­er­nors Island. Mov­ing Chains rep­re­sents a key invest­ment in Gov­er­nors Island Arts’ mis­sion to cre­ate trans­for­ma­tive art expe­ri­ences for all New York­ers to engage with crit­i­cal issues of our time while in this extra­or­di­nary pub­lic space.”

The project will be accom­pa­nied by a series of pub­lic pro­grams that re-con­sid­er legal and cul­tur­al def­i­n­i­tions of free­dom, bring­ing togeth­er an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary group of thinkers. 


Cincin­nati, Ohio | Sum­mer 2023

Open­ing in mul­ti­ple loca­tions through­out Cincin­nati in Sum­mer 2023, The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest will trav­el to the banks of the Ohio Riv­er in Cincinnati’s John G. and Phyl­lis W. Smale River­front Park, accom­pa­nied by an addi­tion­al site-spe­cif­ic com­mis­sioned work to deep­en the geo­graph­ic nuances of colo­nial expan­sion. 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 plan­ta­tion log­ic of peo­ple as prop­er­ty, fed­er­al­ly rec­og­nized in the case of Dred and Har­ri­et Scott, and the era of Man­i­fest Des­tiny and west­ward expan­sion, which estab­lished the Amer­i­can West land­scape as the right­ful prop­er­ty of the Unit­ed States government. 


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, Wave Pool, and mediaThe Foun­da­tion, inc. 

Major sup­port is pro­vid­ed by Hauser & Wirth, Deb­o­rah Beck­mann and Jacob Kotzubei, Bob and Renee Par­sons, San­jeev Rathi, Christo­pher Walk­er, Debi and Steven Wisch, and addi­tion­al anony­mous supporters. 

We 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 Arts with the sup­port of Gov­er­nor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.

We are thrilled to work with Cre­ative Time, Times Square Arts, and Gov­er­nors Island Arts to bring Charles Gaines’ mon­u­men­tal series to the city,” said Rocío Aran­da-Alvara­do, pro­gram offi­cer for Cre­ativ­i­ty and Free Expres­sion at the Ford Foun­da­tion. This ini­tia­tive sheds an impor­tant light on our nation’s past and offers crit­i­cal per­spec­tive for those work­ing to build a more equi­table future.”

Gov­er­nors Island is alive with dynam­ic arts and cul­tur­al pro­gram­ming, pro­vid­ing unfor­get­table and acces­si­ble expe­ri­ences for New York­ers. This pow­er­ful new work by Charles Gaines will serve to con­nect New York­ers across the bor­oughs to the essen­tial arts and cul­tur­al expe­ri­ences that are a core part of May­or Adams’ eco­nom­ic recov­ery blue­print,” said Deputy May­or for Eco­nom­ic and Work­force Devel­op­ment Maria Tor­res-Springer. I encour­age all New York­ers to expe­ri­ence the wide-rang­ing pow­er of this project through­out the city.”


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


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 911, 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.


Times Square Arts, the pub­lic art pro­gram of the Times Square Alliance, col­lab­o­rates with con­tem­po­rary artists and cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions to exper­i­ment and engage with one of the world’s most icon­ic urban places. Through the Square’s elec­tron­ic bill­boards, pub­lic plazas, vacant areas and pop­u­lar venues, and the Alliance’s own online land­scape, Times Square Arts invites lead­ing con­tem­po­rary cre­ators, such as Mel Chin, Tracey Emin, Jef­frey Gib­son, Ryan McGin­ley, Yoko Ono, and Kehinde Wiley, to help the pub­lic see Times Square in new ways. Times Square has always been a place of risk, inno­va­tion and cre­ativ­i­ty, and the Arts Pro­gram ensures these qual­i­ties remain cen­tral to the dis­tric­t’s unique identity. 


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. Gov­er­nors Island Arts achieves this mis­sion through tem­po­rary and long-term pub­lic art com­mis­sions, an annu­al Orga­ni­za­tion in Res­i­dence pro­gram in the Island’s his­toric hous­es, and free pub­lic pro­grams and events in part­ner­ship with a wide range of cross-dis­ci­pli­nary NYC cul­tur­al organizations.