Photographer, filmmaker, activist and 2013 MacArthur Fellow Carrie Mae Weems (Art BFA 81) is the subject of two concurrent exhibitions in New York City. A mid-career retrospective spanning 30 years of Weems’ work opened on Jan. 24 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, while a smaller exhibit housing her new photography series opened on Jan. 30 at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
The Guggenheim’s Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, on view until May 14, assembles more than 120 photographs, written texts, audio recordings and videos by the artist, including her groundbreaking Kitchen Table Series.
From the press release:
The work of Weems invites contemplation of issues surrounding race, gender, and class inequality. Over the past thirty years, Weems has used her art to bring to light the ignored or erased experiences of marginalized people. Her work proposes a multidimensional picture of history and humanity, intended to spur greater cultural awareness and compassion. Although her subjects are often African American, Weems wants “people of color to stand for the human multitudes” and for her art to resonate with audiences of all backgrounds.
Weems is the first African American woman to have a retrospective at the renowned museum. In an article from The New Yorker, she reacts, “Of course, I’m thrilled… Not to sound pretentious, but I should be having a show there. By now, it should be a moot point for a black artist—but it’s not.” She continues to say that she’d be just as happy if the retrospective were about someone else, mentioning Lorna Simpson and Mickalene Thomas, both African American female mid-career artists.
A few miles from the Guggenheim, at the Studio Museum in Harlem, photographs from Weems’ current project The Museum Series are on view until June 29.
The project, which Weems began in 2006, features black-and-white photographs of the artist in front of some of the world’s most famous museums and cultural institutions. In all of the photographs, Weems is clad in a long black dress, her back to the camera. The physical positioning of the artist outside the institutions mandated to preserve history and culture invites the viewer to ponder questions of inequality—of whether there is a history privileged by museums through their preservation and exhibition decisions, and whether that privileging ignores or erases other histories.