Carrie Mae Weems, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

 

SINCE LAST FALL, month after month has been punctuated by encounters with photographer Carrie Mae Weems. Not literally, but at every turn it seems another accomplishment or engagement, another confirmation of the importance of her practice, has come to my attention, which is wonderful.

Throughout her more than 30-year career, Weems has been critically acknowledged, but the past year has proven particularly flush with accolades and activities—widespread recognition long overdue. She will be honored at the Guggenheim International Gala (GIG), a two-day event with a benefit dinner on Nov. 6. The tribute caps a banner period.

carrie mae weems - three decades catalogWeems was one of five artists to receive the first-ever U.S. Department of State Medal of the Arts Award in November 2012. Last year, she was celebrated by the the Gordon Parks Foundation and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the momentum hit a crescendo when she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in September 2013.

The announcement came in the midst of her mid-career retrospective, “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,” a monumental exhibition that concluded at the Guggenheim Museum in New York earlier this year. In the months since, the plaudits and appreciation for her work and intellectual contributions to the field have continued at a formidable pace.

Weems uses photography and video to test and explore assumptions about race. She tangles with many more societal matters too, including gender and class issues, familial and romantic relationships, historic representation and the mores of the art world at large.

Born in Portland, Ore., Weems lives and works in Syracuse, N.Y. While being feted at the GIG, she is participating in Prospect 3, the New Orleans biennial and “Color: Real and Imagined,” a solo exhibition of her work is on view in London at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery through Nov. 15.

It’s been a remarkable year or so for Weems, herewith a selected chronological recap:

 

EXHIBITION
Sept. 10, 2013 | “Du Bois in Our Time Exhibition” Opens at UMass
Pushing her practice into a brand new realm, Weems creates the Du Bois Peony of Hope for “Du Bois in Our Time.” On view through Dec. 8, 2013, the exhibition at the the University of Massachusetts University Museum of Contemporary Art marks the 50th anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois’s death. Weems is one of 10 artists commissioned to contribute a visual response to his legacy in the contemporary world. The flower, a new variety of peony chosen and named for Du Bois, was created in collaboration with Delaware-based Hollingsworth Peonies and landscape architect Walter Hood. Weems and Hood propose a design for a Du Bois Memorial Garden at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst that would be “anchored” by the Peony of Hope.

 


Carrie Mae Weems explains her work and her reaction when she learned she had won the MacArthur award.

 

AWARD
Sept. 24, 2013 | Named 2013 MacArthur Fellow
The MacArthur Foundation names its 2013 class of fellows and Weems is the only visual artist selected among a group of 24. The so-called “genius” award includes a no-strings attached $625,000 stipend doled out over a five-year period. “I get this phone call that they had awarded me the MacArthur award and I thought uh, not me,” she says in the video above. “Can’t be me. Gotta be a mistake. And I put my head down and I cried.”

 

carrie mae weems - artinfo coverCOVER
January 2014 | “Missing Link (Liberty)” Covers Modern Painters
An image from Weems’s The Louisiana Project graces the cover of Blouin ARTINFO’s Modern Painters magazine. Inside, Weems talks with Charmaine Picard about fellow artist Mike Kelley; the intersection of art and activism; feeling like an elder stateswoman when she met First Lady Michelle Obama, which was “lovely”; and a new body of work called “Equivalents.” Most poignantly, she wonders why black artists are not considered outside the confines of race. Why not mount a show pairing Lorna Simpson and Cindy Sherman she asks, or herself with Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand?

Weems wonders why black artists are not considered outside the confines of race. Why not mount a show pairing Lorna Simpson and Cindy Sherman she asks, or herself with Robert Frank and Gary Winogrand?

TALK
Jan. 10, 2014 | In Conversation at Ford Foundation
In a wide-ranging discussion with actress and director Anna Deveare Smith at the Ford Foundation, Weems opens up about her work and her persona. She says she has a fondness for directing because she likes to tell people what to do. She is fascinated by Malcolm Gladwell because of the way “he enters narrative space.” When asked what kind of work she would make if she were a white man, Weems replies “I would have beautiful pink paintings and I’d be very, very wealthy.”

When asked what kind of work she would make if she were a white man, Weems replies “I would have beautiful pink paintings and I’d be very, very wealthy.”

EXHIBITION
Jan. 24, 2014 | “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video” Opens at Guggenheim
A survey of her work over the past 30 years, the exhibition was organized by the Frist Center for Visual Art in Nashville to include more than 200 objects (photographs, video, audio, text and fabric banners) and an accompanying 280-page catalog The exhibition opened at the Frist Center on Sept. 21, 2012, and was on view through Jan. 13, 2013, before traveling to the Portland Art Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cantor Center for Visual Arts and finally the Guggenheim in New York (Jan. 24 to May 14, 2014). Weems is the first African American woman to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim. In his New York Times review of the show, critic Holland Carter praises her subtle and incisive survey of America’s great cultural divides—color and class. “It’s a ripe, questioning and beautiful show,” he writes. “All the more galling, then, that the Guggenheim has cut it down to nearly half the size it was when originally organized.”

In his New York Times review of the exhibition, critic Holland Carter praises her subtle and incisive survey of America’s great cultural divides—color and class: “It’s a ripe, questioning and beautiful show.”

CMW90.005 Untitled (Eating Lobster) HR
CARRIE MAE WEEMS, “Untitled (Eating lobster),” 1990 (silver print), Inventory #CMW90.005. © Carrie Mae Weems, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York | Weems says The Kitchen Table Series is one of her favorite bodies of work. She recently explained this image from the project to The Guardian.

 

EXHIBITION
Jan. 30, 2014 | “Carrie Mae Weems: The Museum Series” Opens at Studio Museum in Harlem
Beginning in 2006, Weems set about documenting herself in the context of the most prestigious European and American museums. The resulting photographs capture the artist with her back to the camera facing such institutions as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, The Louvre, British Museum, Tate Modern and Philadelphia Museum of Art. The project is at once a silent comment on and symbolically loud challenge to their exhibition and collecting practices, which the Studio Museum describes as affirming or rejecting certain histories (through June 29, 2014).

 

AWARD
Feb. 24, 2014 | Accepts BET Visual Arts Award
A celebration of African Africans who have made great strides in a variety of fields, the annual BET Honors pays tribute to Carrie Mae Weems presenting her with its Visual Arts Award. In her succinct speech, Weems acknowledges that she is unfamiliar to most in the audience, that she is not standing before them as a film or TV actress. “The vast majority of you have no idea who I am really and you’ve never heard my name and you’ve never seen my work,” she says. “I want to thank BET for going beyond the bounds of popular culture. For going outside the norm.”

 

LECTURE
March 6, 2014 | Speaks at Nasher Museum
Weems gives the Rothschild Lecture at Duke University’s Nasher Museum, which recently acquired “I Looked and Looked to See What so Terrified You” 2003 (diptych), its second work by the artist. Her engaging talk is wide-ranging, capturing the essence of her practice and the many ideas behind her work. She begins by screening a few short videos including “A Woman in Winter” (2008), “I Look at Women” (2013) and later an excerpt from “Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me” (2012). Using slides, Weems discusses her many bodies of work, including Slow Fade to Black (2010) and The Museum Series she began in 2006. “There is something about the way in which museums function that I find really upsetting and very disturbing,” Weems says. “I don’t like the way museums treat artists. They really don’t know what to do with living artists. They are much more prepared to deal with dead ones.”

“I don’t like the way museums treat artists. They really don’t know what to do with living artists. They are much more prepared to deal with dead ones.” — Carrie Mae Weems at Nasher Museum

NGA - Carrie Mae Weems_B22711_SBD
CARRIE MAE WEEMS, “May Flowers,” 2002 (chromogenic print, printed 2013). | Courtesy National Gallery of Art

 

ACQUISITION
March 26, 2014 | National Gallery of Art Acquires “May Flowers”
Carrie Mae Weems is finally represented in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The museum announces the acquisition of its first work by Weems, “May Flowers,” a 2002 photograph from her May Days Long Forgotten series depicting three girls dressed in their Sunday best, lounging in the grass. More than a sweet portrait, the image has deeper meaning. Ritual and Revolution (1998), another Weems installation concludes with the words “I could see again / the coming of Spring’s hope / in the May flower / of the May Days / long forgotten,” which refer to International Workers’ Day, a recognized time for labor protests and rallies in the late 19th century. According to “Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video,” Weems returns to this metaphor in her May Days Long Forgotten series: “Through photographs, both color and black and white…she links a seemingly innocent celebration of spring with a call to social action. Weems mimics Soviet propaganda, which often used happy children as signifiers of a positive future through acceding to the dictates of the state. Like Ritual and Revolution, May Days Long Forgotten examines the history of revolution and human rights on a global scale.”

“Weems links a seemingly innocent celebration of spring with a call to social action… May Days Long Forgotten examines the history of revolution and human rights on a global scale.”

past tense - future perfect

 

PROGRAM
April 25-27, 2014 | Hosts Past Tense/Future Perfect
A major part of the programming organized to encourage discussion, education and celebration around the experience of viewing her Guggenheim retrospective, Weems hosts Carrie Mae Weems LIVE: Past Tense/Future Perfect at the museum. A three-day event described as a “multidisciplinary performance-salon,” the weekend of activities focuses on “contemporary cultural production in the areas of dance, film, literature, music, theater, and visual art” and features creative talent from each discipline and a tribute to the late Terry Adkins. Selected participants include Elizabeth Alexander, Sanford Biggers, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Sandra Jackson-Dumont, Okwui Enwezor, Charles Gaines, Theaster Gates, Nelson George, Thelma Golden, Walter Hood, Shola Lynch, Jason Moran and The Bandwagon, Richard J. Powell, Xaviera Simmons, Shinique Smith and Deborah Willis.

 

TALK
May 7, 2014 | Participates in National Gallery of Art Panel on Art and Diplomacy
Declaring herself an artistic ambassador, Weems participates in a panel discussion about art and diplomacy with actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith and Robert Storr, dean of the Yale School of Art and chairman of Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE) Professional Fine Arts Committee. Moderated by James Meyer, associate curator of modern art, National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the event provides a platform for Weems to discuss the role of artists in international cultural, social and political exchange.

 

FILM
Aug. 27, 2014 | Appears in “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People”
Directed by Thomas Allen Harris, “Through a Lens Darkly” explores the ways family photos and historic and contemporary images by black photographers have defined, humanized and affirmed African American people, in contrast to more ubiquitous negative portrayals by white photographers. Weems is among those who speak on screen in the documentary about the resonance of her photography and the powerful, groundbreaking contributions of those who came before her.

 

Weems_Lincoln_P3
CARRIE MAE WEEMS, Still from “Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me—A Story in 5 Parts,” 2012 (mixed-media video theatre installation, “Pepper’s ghost” illusion technique, duration: 18 mins.). | Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, From Prospect 3

 

ARTICLE
September 2014 | Artforum Examines “Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me”
Huey Copeland examines “Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me—A Story in 5 Parts,” a theatrical video projection by Weems in Artforum magazine. In an article titled “Specters of History,” Copeland, a professor of art history at Northwestern University, describes the 2012 work as a “meditation” on her relationship with the U.S. president, her sometime artistic collaborator Lonnie Graham and history writ large. Presented in a room darkened by heavy red velvet drapes, the haunting and technically ambitious project employs illusion, sound and holographic imagery. At one point, Weems invokes Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and 1960s footage of housing projects. “In so framing American history as a racialized theater of deadly repetition, the piece explores both the tragedies of the past and the ways in which their farcical returns might be negotiated,” Copeland writes.

 

TALK
Sept. 9, 2014 | Presents Work in Art21 Conversation at BAM
BAMcinématek invites artists to present their work in tandem with their Art21 documentaries. (Weems appeared on Season 5 in 2009.) Deemed an Evening with Carrie Mae Weems and Art21 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Weems screens “I Look at Women” (2013) and “Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me” (2012), followed by a discussion with former MoMA curator Laurence Kardish.

 

weems_color_real_and_imagined_h6830_300dpi
CARRIE MAE WEEMS, “Color Real and Imagined,” 2014 (archival pigment with silkscreened color blocks, edition 1 of 10, 2 AP). | via Pippy Houldsworth Gallery

 

EXHIBITION
Oct. 10, 2014 | “Color Real and Imagined” Opens at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery
Her first solo exhibition in a UK commercial gallery, “Color: Real and Imagined” features key bodies of work that define Weems’s practice over the past three decades. “Kitchen Table Series,” “Roaming,” “Colored People” and “Untitled (Colored People Grid)” are among the works on view at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London. The exhibition also includes several videos and a new work, an archival pigment print from which the exhibition takes its name (through Nov. 15, 2014).

 

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CARRIE MAE WEEMS, “Untitled (Standing on the Tracks),” 2003 (gelatin silver print, Ed. of 5, 2 AP | © CARRIE MAE WEEMS. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, From Prospect 3

 

EXHIBITION
Oct. 25, 2014 | Participates in Prospect 3
Weems’s multimedia installation “Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me—A Story in 5 Parts” (2012) is on view at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art as a part of Prospect 3: Notes for Now. The museum is also showing photographs from The Louisiana Project (2003) and the video Meaning and Landscape (2002-2005). The New Orleans biennial continues through Jan. 25, 2015.

 

AWARD
Nov. 2, 2014 | Receives Lucie Award
The Lucie Awards pay tribute to excellence in photography across a range of categories including documentary and photojournalism. Weems receives 2014 honor for Achievement in Fine Arts at the annual gala held at Carnegie Hall.

AWARD
Nov. 6, 2014 | Accepts Guggenheim Honor
Weems returns to the Guggenheim Museum, where her retrospective was on view earlier this year (Jan. 24 – May 14, 2014), for the annual Guggenheim International Gala. She is honored alongside fellow artists Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, Günther Uecker and Wang Jianwei at the Dior-sponsored benefit dinner supporting the museum’s foundation. CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Courtesy of John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation