Mov­ing Chains” to Open on Gov­er­nors Island Octo­ber 15


Rendering courtesy of TOLO Architecture

Cre­ative Time, Gov­er­nors Island Arts, and Times Square Arts are pleased to announce the open­ing of Mov­ing Chains on Gov­er­nors Island on Octo­ber 15, 2022, the sec­ond chap­ter of Charles Gaines’s The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest. The 110-foot kinet­ic sculp­ture acti­vat­ed by colos­sal chains rotat­ing over­head anchors a pub­lic art project that address­es the real­i­ty of sys­temic racism in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca through embod­ied and visu­al expe­ri­ence, and pro­vides crit­i­cal his­tor­i­cal con­text on our extra­or­di­nary polit­i­cal divi­sion today. 

Announced in June 2022, Charles Gaines’s The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest is an exhi­bi­tion of mul­ti­me­dia sculp­ture, per­for­mances, and edu­ca­tion­al ses­sions that unfold in three parts across New York City and Cincin­nati, Ohio over 2022 – 23. The open­ing of Mov­ing Chains on Gov­er­nors Island fol­lows the project’s pre­mière in Times Square this July 2022 with Man­i­festos 4: The Dred and Har­ri­et Scott Deci­sion and Roots. Open­ing next, Mov­ing Chains will be on view to the pub­lic on Gov­er­nors Island in New York Har­bor from Octo­ber 15, 2022 through June 2023, before it moves to the banks of the Ohio Riv­er in Cincinnati. 

The sec­ond chap­ter in Charles Gaines’s mon­u­men­tal The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest, Mov­ing Chains is Gov­er­nors Island Arts’ largest pub­lic art com­mis­sion to date and will pro­vide a deeply immer­sive oppor­tu­ni­ty for Island vis­i­tors and all New York­ers to engage with the com­plex his­to­ries and lega­cies of Gov­er­nors Island, New York Har­bor, and the Unit­ed States as a whole,” said Mered­ith John­son, Vice Pres­i­dent of Arts and Cul­ture and Head Cura­tor at the Trust for Gov­er­nors Island. Gov­er­nors Island Arts is com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing trans­for­ma­tive artis­tic inter­ven­tions that encour­age New York­ers to engage with the most press­ing issues of our time, and we are hon­ored to work with Charles Gaines and our incred­i­ble part­ners to bring Mov­ing Chains to Gov­er­nors Island.”

Com­mis­sion­ing part­ner Cre­ative Time Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Jus­tine Lud­wig, elab­o­rates on the project, Cre­ative Time is com­mit­ted to com­mis­sion­ing works of art on the scale of dreams that chal­lenge expec­ta­tion. Ambi­tious pub­lic art projects, like the Mov­ing Chains, allow us to fore­front dif­fi­cult ques­tions and reex­am­ine his­tor­i­cal truths. Charles Gaines has pro­vid­ed a clar­i­ty of vision, and exe­cut­ed it on a large-scale that is impos­si­ble to ignore.”

New York City wel­comes the momen­tous pub­lic art engage­ment for New York­ers and its vis­i­tors, Each year, Gov­er­nors Island expands its con­tri­bu­tions to pub­lic art, cul­ture and cre­ativ­i­ty in our city,” said Deputy May­or for Eco­nom­ic and Work­force Devel­op­ment Maria-Tor­res Springer. I encour­age all New York­ers to take a trip out to expe­ri­ence Mov­ing Chains, Chap­ter Two of Charles Gaines’s The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest—a thought-pro­vok­ing and con­se­quen­tial sculp­ture and the Island’s largest pub­lic art com­mis­sion to date.”

For near­ly 50 years, Charles Gaines has dis­tin­guished him­self as an artist ded­i­cat­ed to the per­cep­tion of sub­jec­tive and objec­tive truths. In the artist’s first com­mis­sion of pub­lic art, in devel­op­ment for near­ly a decade, Gaines con­fronts the Amer­i­can ori­gin sto­ry — the nation’s found­ing and its expan­sion — with a series of art­works that dis­sect a nar­ra­tive rid­dled with false­hoods and omis­sions that have fur­thered the project of white suprema­cy. Trac­ing the flow of the his­tor­i­cal­ly charged rivers and ports of New York City and Cincinnati’s Ohio Riv­er, 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 today.

Open­ing Octo­ber 152022

Mov­ing Chains is a mon­u­men­tal 110-foot long kinet­ic sculp­ture built from steel and sus­tain­ably har­vest­ed Sapele, com­mon­ly referred to as African Mahogany, a tree native to West Africa. Cre­at­ed by Charles Gaines with col­lab­o­rat­ing archi­tects TOLO Archi­tec­ture, the sculp­ture, which peo­ple may enter and walk through, con­tains nine cus­tom made chains weigh­ing over 1,600 pounds each run­ning its length over­head. Eight of the chains are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pace of the cur­rents in New York Har­bor, while a ninth cen­tral chain moves more quick­ly, recall­ing the pace of ship and barge traf­fic that has trav­eled the city’s water­ways for cen­turies. The over­all effect of the weight and motion of the chains pro­duces a rhyth­mic, undu­lat­ing loop, evoca­tive of the sounds of New York Har­bor at the entrance to the Hud­son Riv­er, known to the area’s Indige­nous res­i­dents the Lenape as Mahi­can­tuck, the riv­er that runs two ways. Start­ing dur­ing the Dutch and British occu­pa­tions, this water­way near present-day low­er Man­hat­tan would become an eco­nom­ic pil­lar of the transat­lantic slave trade and seed the sys­tem of racial cap­i­tal­ism foun­da­tion­al to the Unit­ed States. Fac­ing the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty — an inter­na­tion­al sym­bol of benev­o­lence and human rights, dis­tin­guished by the abo­li­tion­ist iconog­ra­phy of a bro­ken shack­le and chain at her right foot—Mov­ing Chains calls atten­tion to the nation’s eco­nom­ic, judi­cial, and polit­i­cal frame­works that con­tin­ue the lega­cy of slav­ery today.

To accom­pa­ny Mov­ing Chains, Cre­ative Time and Gov­er­nors Island Arts will present a con­fer­ence on abo­li­tion and the lim­its of the law on the Island this Spring 2023, recon­sid­er­ing legal and cul­tur­al def­i­n­i­tions of free­dom and the unfin­ished project of abo­li­tion. Bring­ing togeth­er an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary group of thinkers, the accom­pa­ny­ing pro­grams will ask, how can lib­er­a­tion be defined out­side of the con­fines of slav­ery and racial cap­i­tal­ism? What does free­dom look like? What tac­tics are nec­es­sary to get there? Who is lead­ing us in this work?

On the occa­sion of Mov­ing Chains, Black Gotham Expe­ri­ence, a project that reimag­ines spaces direct­ly impact­ed by the African Dias­po­ra estab­lished by artist and his­to­ri­an Kamau Ware, will offer an audio tour of the pre-colo­nial, colo­nial, and post-colo­nial pat­terns that have informed a cen­turies-long rela­tion­ship with what are known today as the East and Hud­son Rivers and New York Har­bor. Access to the tour will be avail­able through­out the path­way to Mov­ing Chains via QR code and on both the Cre­ative Time and Gov­er­nors Island Arts websites.


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 of slav­ery in Amer­i­ca, and con­tributes to the ongo­ing dia­logue about sys­tems and cycles of racism, extrac­tion, and oppres­sion expe­ri­enced today. 


Charles Gaines: The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest is made pos­si­ble in New York and Cincin­nati by the vision­ary sup­port of the Ford Foun­da­tion, Lam­bent Foun­da­tion Fund, a fund of Tides Foun­da­tion, the Mel­lon 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, Suzanne and Bob Cochran, Marie Dou­glas, Karl Iag­nem­ma and Ann-Kris­ten Lund, Jacob and Deb­o­rah Kotzubei, Jon Nei­dich, Bob and Renee Par­sons, San­jeev Rathi, Eric Richter, Wad­dell Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion, Jed Walen­tas, Christo­pher Walk­er, Mar­garet Wang, Debi and Steven Wisch, and addi­tion­al anony­mous donors. 

We are also grate­ful for the sup­port of the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts (NEA); pub­lic funds from the New York City Depart­ment of Cul­tur­al Affairs (DCA) in part­ner­ship with the City Coun­cil and May­or Eric Adams; and the New York State Coun­cil on the Arts (NYSCA) with the sup­port of Gov­er­nor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.


Charles Gaines’s Mov­ing Chains was devel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TOLO Archi­tec­ture, as well as numer­ous pro­duc­tion part­ners in its design and con­struc­tion includ­ing, engi­neer­ing and mechan­i­cal design by AOA; instal­la­tion and build by Tor­silieri & Sons; sound engi­neer­ing by Arup; and fab­ri­ca­tion work by Strong­hold Indus­tries and Rozell Indus­tries.


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 a 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; as well as the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Arts and Let­ters in May 2022. In Jan­u­ary 2023, Gaines will be the sub­ject of a major one per­son exhi­bi­tion of new work at Hauser & Wirth New York.