Carrie Mae Weems has worked toward developing a complex body of art that has employed photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video over the past twenty-five years. Her work has led her to investigate family relationships, gender roles, the histories of racism, sexism, class, and various political systems.
Of her own work Weems has said, “Despite the variety of my explorations, throughout it all it has been my contention that my responsibility as an artist is to work, to sing for my supper, to make art, beautiful and powerful, that adds and reveals; to beautify the mess of a messy world, to heal the sick and feed the helpless; to shout bravely from the roof-tops and storm barricaded doors and voice the specifics of our historic moment.”
In a review of her series The Hampton Project in the New York Times, Holland Cotter says, “Weems has long been one of our most effective visual and verbal rhetoricians. When she tackles complex subjects in complex ways, the results are . . . deeply stirring.”
Weems has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions at major national and international museums including the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Currently, her work is the focus of a major retrospective, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video. The exhibition began its run at The Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville then travels to Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, ending at the Guggenheim Museum, New York in January 2014. Yale University Press publishes the eponymous accompanying catalog.
Weems has received numerous awards, grants and fellowships including the prestigious Prix de Roma, The National Endowment of the Arts, the Alpert, the Anonymous was a Woman and the Tiffany Awards. In 2012, Weems was presented with one of the first US Department of State’s Medals of Arts in recognition for her commitment to the State Department’s Art in Embassies program.
In 2013 Weems was not only the recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant, but she also received the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
She is represented in public and private collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, NY and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Weems has been represented by Jack Shainman Gallery since 2008. Her exhibitions with the gallery include Slow Fade to Black (2010), Signs Taken for Wonders (2009) curated by Isolde Brielmaier, Carrie Mae Weems: A Survey (2008) and The Whole World is Rotten (2005).
by Holland Cotter
Color and class are still the great divides in American culture, and few artists have surveyed them as subtly and incisively as Carrie Mae Weems, whose traveling 30-year retrospective has arrived at the Guggenheim Museum. From its early candid family photographs, through series of pictures that track the Africa in African-America, to work that explores, over decades, what it means to be black, female and in charge of your life, it’s a ripe, questioning and beautiful show.
All the more galling, then, that the Guggenheim has cut it down to nearly half the size it was when originally organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville and split it between two floors of annex galleries, making an exhibition that should have filled the main-event rotunda with her portraits, videos and installations into a secondary, niche attraction.
Ms. Weems was born in Portland, Ore., in 1953, to a family with sharecropper roots in Tennessee and Mississippi. The early civil rights years and the traumatic, nomadic 1960s were the years of her youth, and she did a lot of living fast. By her mid-20s, she had studied dance; had a child; worked in restaurants, offices and factories; spent time in Mexico, Fiji and New York; and begun a long-term commitment to grass-roots socialist politics.
In 1990, the American photographer Carrie Mae Weems staged a series of black-and-white scenes at her own kitchen table, starring herself, alone and with other models. These weren’t straight-up self-portraits any more than Cindy Sherman’s “Film Stills” were outtakes from movies. Alternating the pictures with framed panels of folkloric text, Weems distilled complexities of race, class, and gender into the story of a black Everywoman who was defined not just by her relationships—as a lover, mother, breadwinner, friend—but by her comfort with solitude. In the process, she elevated the sapless polemics of identity politics to the lush realm of neorealism.
Three Decades of Photography and Video
Carrie Mae Weems is a socially motivated artist whose works invite contemplation of race, gender, and class. Increasingly, she has broadened her view to include global struggles for equality and justice. Comprehensive in scope, this retrospective primarily features photographs, including the groundbreaking Kitchen Table Series (1990), but also presents written texts, audio recordings, and videos. The exhibition traces the evolution of Weems’s career over the last 30 years, from her early documentary and autobiographical photographic series to the more conceptual and philosophically complex works that have placed her at the forefront of contemporary art.
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October 07, 2013 The Guggenheim would like to extend its congratulations to Carrie Mae Weems for being selected as one of the 2013 MacArthur Foundation Fellows. The MacArthur fellowship, which is commonly called a “genius grant,” was given to Weems to honor her efforts to transform our understanding of social identity through her work. The museum applauds this recognition of Weems and her contribution to contemporary art and society.
For the past three decades, Weems, who is the subject of a retrospective that opens at the Guggenheim Museum on January 24, 2014, has produced photographs and videos that focus on how history and identity are entwined with their visual representations. From considerations of race relations in America to explorations of global struggles against inequality, these works have solidified Weems’s place as one of today’s most significant artists.
“This year’s class of MacArthur Fellows is an extraordinary group of individuals who collectively reflect the breadth and depth of American creativity.” -- Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows program.
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