Profile: Charles Gaines (1944-)

Charles Gaines is an American artist whose work interrogates the discourse of aesthetics, politics, and philosophy. Taking the form of drawings, photographic series and video installations, the work consistently involves the use of systems, predominantly in the form of the grid, often in combination with photography. His work is rooted in Conceptual Art – in dialogue with artists such as Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner and Mel Bochner – and Gaines is committed to its tenets of engaging cognition and language. As one of the only African-American conceptual artists working in the 1970s, a time when political expressionism was a prevailing concern among African-American artists, Gaines was an outlier in his pursuit of abstraction and non-didactic approach to race and politics. There is a strong musical thread running through much of Gaines’ work, evident in his repeated use of musical scores as well in his engagement with the idea of indeterminacy, as similar to John Cage.


In Motion: Trisha Brown Dance (1981), Gaines photographed postmodern dancer Trisha Brown performing the piece Son of Gone Fishin’. Numbering the spaces in a grid that correspond with the body in motion, and overlaying another grid drawing for each image in the series, Gaines seeks to transcribe the moving body in a way that the photograph cannot. In doing so, he also creates an erasure of the body’s distinguishing contours – aligning with Trisha Brown’s embrace of structures that obscure themselves. With the series Walnut Tree Orchard, Charles Gaines started working with photographs in his artworks in addition to mathematical formulas, continuing the use of grid paper.

  • Explosions
  • History of Stars
  • Shadows
  • Walnut Tree Orchard (1975-2014)
  • String Theory
  • Manifestos
  • Sound Text (2015)

In addition to working on his art, Gaines has been serving on the advisory board of the Hauser & Wirth Institute since 2018.

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