Wilmer Wilson IV spent a certain amount of time this past March rummaging through Philadelphia street trash looking for cast-off television sets.
Participating in a Barnes Foundation exhibition, "Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flânerie," Wilson prowled around the city, particularly along trash routes, collected his TVs, broken and unbroken, and piled them – artfully, but not too artfully – in an interior garden at the Barnes gallery on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The installation had a performance aspect: Wilson strapped TVs to his chest and wandered the city with an image of his own spinal cord on the screen.
That, you might say, is art that turns heads.
Now Wilson is one of 12 artists, writers, performers, and architects who have each been awarded a $75,000 Pew Fellowship in the Arts, announced Monday evening by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
Wilson is excited about his fellowship, he wrote via email from Ypres, Belgium, where he is 2017 artist in residence at In Flanders Fields Museum and where he is putting finishing touches to his new show, Fire Bill's Spook Kit.
"It is an honor to be awarded," he said of the Pew fellowship, "but I am also invested in making sure the work continues with or without these types of recognition."
He said the fellowship "will enable me to spend more time tending to my place in the social fabric of where I live — in West Philly — as well as to create infrastructure for all sorts of ephemera that deserve more care."
Wilson is deeply interested in ephemera and cast-offs, things discarded and displaced — whether a broken television or a human being.
The Pew center also announced 39 grants for specific projects and two "advancement grants" designed to assist new initiatives by institutions.
Total grant awards for this year come to more than $10.3 million, Pew officials said, all going to individuals and institutions and organizations in the Philadelphia area.
In addition to Wilson, fellowships were awarded to interdisciplinary artists Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips; poet Julia Bloch; choreographer and performer Nichole Canuso; writer and scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild; poet M. Nzadi Keita; media artists Michael Kuetemeyer and Anula Shetty; landscape architects Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha; filmmaker Moon Molson; media artist Tayarisha Poe; filmmaker David Felix Sutcliffe; and choreographer and performer Annie Wilson.