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GRAM Presents Forty Years of Groundbreaking Photography by Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems

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In Dialogue organized by Grand Rapids Art Museum debuts Jan. 29, on view through April 30, 2022
Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953). Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Children) from The Kitchen Table Series, 1990

Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953). Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Children) from The Kitchen Table Series, 1990 /© Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

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Meijer Free Days at the Grand Rapids Art Museum

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Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953). Untitled #5 (Tree Trunk, Picket Fence and, House), from the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black,

Dawoud Bey (American, b. 1953). Untitled #5 (Tree Trunk, Picket Fence and, House), from the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black, /© Dawoud Bey. Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

A forty-year retrospective by two of today’s most influential photo-based artists, Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems, will be on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) beginning Jan. 29 until April 30, 2022. Organized by GRAM, Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is the first exhibition to exclusively bring their work together. Featuring 140 works, the exhibition will give a unique glimpse into their distinct artistic approaches and trajectories, as well as the artists’ shared focus on representing communities and histories that have largely been unseen.

Speaking about the artists, Chief Curator Ron Platt said, “Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems have always sought to create works of art that expand the way we think about the world. Both artists have been united in their commitment to amplifying authentic Black experiences and images, recognizing those important perspectives and insights were overlooked and sorely lacking within the field of photography.”

Both born in 1953, Bey and Weems found motivation for their art in the changing American social landscape of their youth. Since meeting in a photography class taught by Bey at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1976, the two artists have been intellectual colleagues and close friends, each exploring similar themes of race, class, representation, and systems of power throughout their careers.

“Carrie Mae Weems and I have been carrying on a personal conversation for more than forty years,” said Dawoud Bey of his relationship with Weems. “We both see ourselves in conversation with history, both broadly and within the sphere of African American culture. We’ve nurtured each other’s burning desire to contribute meaningfully to the long history of Black expressive excellence. Hopefully, this exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum reveals that the conversation that Carrie and I have had has both buoyed each other’s work and produced something of lasting meaning and value.”

Of the exhibition, Carrie Mae Weems said “I’ve never been given a major exhibition in concert with another artist that I was deeply involved with, so for me, it’s a really unique exhibition. It gives me the great opportunity of learning about an extraordinary artist who has been by my side for the last 45 years. What Dawoud has managed to accomplish is not easy for any artist. And he’s done it with such dignity, such grace, and with such generosity of spirit.”

Bey and Weems began their exploration of photography as the field was expanding and transforming from a tradition of small, black-and-white film-based images. In Dialogue highlights the early pictures they made in the photodocumentary style, followed by their ambitious, groundbreaking explorations of the medium as it grew technologically and artistically.

This exhibition pairs the two artists’ work in five sections that emphasize both their distinct artistic approaches and their shared interests and concerns: Early Work, Broadening the Scope, Resurrecting Black Histories, Memorial and Requiem, and Revelations in the Landscape. Also featured in the exhibition are large-scale projected videos by Bey and Weems that show their approaches to the moving photographic image as an extension of their still photographic series.

Beginning with Early Work, viewers will travel through the 35mm photography Bey and Weems captured at the outset of their careers, embracing both spontaneous scenes of city life, and more quiet, domestic interactions. In Broadening the Scope, Bey and Weems’ begin staging their photographs — Bey capturing posed street portraits of young subjects in urban environments and Weems staging her groundbreaking, narrative-based Kitchen Table Series.

In Resurrecting Black Histories, we see the artists’ deepened interest in documenting places and moments heavy with historical importance. Bey captures safe houses and meeting sites in near darkness along the Underground Railroad of Ohio, while Weems’ somber Sea Island Series explores the African legends and folklore that was retained within the Gullah culture of the Southern United States. In Memorial and Requiem, both artists become full-fledged in their commitment to cultural documentation, paying homage to tragic historic events. In the final section, Revelations in the Landscape, the artists return to a more distanced observation, contemplating the effects of time through location. Bey revisits Harlem, now photographing the effects of gentrification in color, while Weems appears in her own shots against the ancient structures of Rome, clad all in black as she guides the viewer through age-old institutional powers abroad.

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is organized by the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with presenting support provided by MillerKnoll.

About Dawoud Bey

Photographer Dawoud Bey’s first exhibition was presented at the Studio Museum in Harlem, in 1979. Since then, his work has been presented internationally to critical and popular acclaim. Recent large-scale exhibitions of his photographs have been presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Tate Modern, London. Bey’s writings on his own and others’ work are included in Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply and Dawoud Bey on Photographing People and Communities, and High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967 – 1975.

About Carrie Mae Weems

Over her career, Carrie Mae Weems has created a complex body of artwork through which she explores power, class, black identity, womanhood, the historical past – and its resonance in the present moment. In addition to photography, Weems creates video, performance, and works of public art, and she organizes thematic gatherings which bring together creative thinkers across a broad array of disciplines. Her work has been exhibited across the world, at venues such as the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, Spain, and the American Academy in Rome, Italy.

Publication

Along with the exhibition, GRAM is publishing an illustrated catalogue with DelMonico Books distributed by D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.) which documents Bey and Weems’ photographs and includes scholarly essays by GRAM Chief Curator Rob Platt and National Museum of African American History & Culture Deputy Director, Kinshasa Holman Conwill exploring the social, political, and artistic context in which they emerged as artists and how their continued dialogue has influenced and impacted on another’s work, along with written reflections by both artists.

Related Programs

Member Preview Hours
Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue
January 28, 6 — 8 pm
Grand Rapids Art Museum
Members and their guests are invited to enjoy a first look at Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue during a special evening preview. Enjoy an advance viewing of the exhibition, gallery chats with museum docents, and a complimentary take-home snack.

Artist Talk: Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems

March 24, 6 – 7:30 pm
Cook Auditorium, Grand Rapids Art Museum
In celebration of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, GRAM Members can attend a conversation between the two artists moderated by exhibition curator, Ron Platt. In their conversation, Bey and Weems will discuss their years as young photographers in New York, their ongoing friendship, and the influence and impact they have had on one another over the past forty-five years.

Art Programming with Local School Districts

GRAM will partner with underserved school districts to provide unique learning experiences for upper-elementary to high school students, centered upon themes from Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue. Programming will include interactive guided tours and engagement with guest speakers and local photography artists, in addition to resources for in-classroom lesson plans and art projects that supplement museum field trips.

Exhibition Tour

Following its debut in Grand Rapids, Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue will travel to additional venues throughout the U.S.

- Tampa Museum of Art: July 21 – October 23, 2022

- Seattle Art Museum: November 15, 2022 – January 22, 2023 

- The Getty Center, Los Angeles: April 4 – July 9, 2023

About the Grand Rapids Art Museum

Connecting people through art, creativity, and design. Established in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, the Art Museum is internationally known for its distinguished design and LEED® Gold certified status. Established in 1910 as the Art Association of Grand Rapids, GRAM has grown to include more than 6,400 works of art, including American and European 19th, 20th, and 21st century painting, and sculpture, and design objects, as well as and more than 3,000 works on paper. Embracing the city’s legacy as a leading center of design and manufacturing, GRAM has a growing collection in the area of design and modern craft.

For hours and admission information, call 616.831.1000 or visit artmuseumgr.org.

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