It's 2014 and the Guggenheim is finally honoring an African American female artist with a retrospective. Photographer Carrie Mae Weems' three decades worth of emotional and provocative work will be on display at the museum from now until May 14.
Having been born in the early '50s, come of age during the civil rights movement and (of course) lived her life as a black woman in America, Weems has been creating art that sheds light on issues of gender, class and race with beautiful and tender styling for more than half her life. Given her first camera in 1974, Weems has been capturing quiet domestic moments from within her own family, all while traveling far and wide to collect and document the lives and experiences of subjugated classes, ever since.
For her work, Weems has earned a MacArthur "genius" grant and a Medal of Arts from the U.S. State Department. She is the natural choice for a Guggenheim retrospective, and yet even that is coming with an embarrassing (embarrassing for the Guggenheim, not Weems) catch. Only half of the collection (which is currently a traveling show) will appear at the museum and it will be given limited space.
From the New York Times:
...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.
No one is more aware of the limitations of being a black female artist than Weems herself and, while gracious to the Guggenheim for highlighting her work, she has spoken openly about her right to show there and the ridiculousness that it's taken so long for her and her peers to get their dues.
From The New Yorker:
"Of course, I'm thrilled," Weems said, several days before the show opened. "I'm the first African-American woman to have a retrospective at the Guggenheim. 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 said she'd be just as happy if the museum were surveying someone else, mentioning a few mid-career names, including Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, and Lyle Ashton Harris. "Of course, I might be lying to myself," she said. "But I'm not as interested in my own career as I am in moving a kind of cultural diplomacy forward."
Weems may not be so interested in her own career, but the public ought to be. Her work — from her Kitchen Table series to her found art featuring daguerreotypes black slaves in 1850s South Carolina — is absolutely stunning. Book your tickets to New York now. The show is not to be missed.
Images via Carrie Mae Weems' Kitchen Table series.