October 2, 2013

Bringing Some Color to the Guggenheim:

What with planning for her retrospective at the Guggenheim, helping inner-city youth enter the music business, fighting gun violence in an advertising campaign, and managing to get a peony named after an African American hero, Carrie Mae Weems was pretty busy even before she got The Call last week from the MacArthur Foundation. So the news that she won a “genius grant” added another whirlwind of activity on her already intimidating schedule.

“I was floored,” the artist said on the speakerphone from her car as she raced between engagements in Syracuse, New York, where she lives and teaches. “It was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard.”

Along with the 23 other MacArthur recipients this year, Weems will receive $625,000 over the next five years, no strings attached.

“I’ll buy a new dress and a new pair of shoes for sure,” she says. “But everything will go back into my work because that’s what I do. It will go to the projects I care about.”

A charismatic artist, activist, and educator, Weems is best known for installations, videos, and photographs that invite the viewer to reflect on issues of race, gender, and class.

A wry wit infuses even her most uncompromising works, which comment on stereotypes, slavery, miscegenation, and the exclusion of blacks—as artists and subjects—from Western art history. Her traveling retrospective, which began at the Frist Center in Nashville last year and opens at its final stop, the Guggenheim, on January 24, includes the naughty “Ain’t Jokin’” series (1987-88); “The Kitchen Table Series” (1990) photographs of domestic scenes that inspired Mickalene Thomas to be an artist; and the fabulous Afro-Chic fashion video (2009), among some 200 objects Weems has produced over the last three decades.

She’s been talking to Guggenheim staff about ways to jumpstart a demographic shift in the museum’s typical audience.

“ I want to make sure I have a dynamic presence of people of color flowing through the space,” she says. One idea she’s thinking about is a live-broadcast performative conversation, maybe something along the lines of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Maybe with a comic and a house band.

“There could be a night around art and activism, with people who are troubling the waters, as they say,” she comments. “A night called Laughing to Keep from Crying or, Jewish Comedy, Black Comedy, and the Power of Resistance.”

Read more at artnews.com

Untitled (Man and mirror), from “The Kitchen Table Series,” 1990, gelatin silver print. COURTESY JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY. Carrie Mae Weems & Social Studies 101, Operation: Activate, 2011.COURTESY THE ARTIST. The Du Bois Peony of Hope, officially named by the American Peony Society, is part of a Du Bois Memorial Garden that Weems designed in collaboration with landscape architect Walter J. Hood. COURTESY THE ARTIST. Untitled (Man smoking), from “The Kitchen Table Series,” 1990, gelatin silver print. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK. Carrie Mae Weems, Mirror Mirror, from the series “Ain’t Jokin’,” 1987-1988, gelatin silver print. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK. May Flowers, from the series “May Days Long Forgotten,” 2002, digital chromogenic print. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK. Some Said You Were the Spitting Image of Evil, from the series “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried,” 1995-96, chromogenic print with etched text on glass. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK. 

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