July 21 – October 23, 2022
Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is organized by the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with support generously provided by MillerKnoll, Wege Foundation, Agnes Gund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Eenhoorn, LLC.
Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue brings together a focused selection of work from a period of over forty years by two of today’s most important and influential photo-based artists.
Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems, both born in 1953, came of age during a period of dramatic change in the American social landscape. Since meeting at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1976, the two artists have been intellectual colleagues and companions. Over the following five decades, Bey and Weems have explored and addressed similar themes: race, class, representation, and systems of power, creating work that is grounded in specific African American events and realities while simultaneously speaking to a multitude of human conditions. This exhibition, for the first time, brings their work together to shed light on their unique trajectories and modes of presentation, and their shared consciousness and principles.
From the outset of their careers, both Bey and Weems have operated from a deep social commitment to participate in, describe, and define culture. In seeking to express themselves fully, both artists have expanded possibilities within photography and video to address their chosen subjects. Each engaged in the material and conceptual developments in the art world that were gaining prominence beginning in the 1970s, just as their careers were developing. As Bey and Weems have continued to push their own work forward, their art and approach have inspired notable younger artists such as LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lyle Ashton Harris, Mickalene Thomas, and Hank Willis Thomas.
Both Bey and Weems create work in focused series that gives them the opportunity to fully explore their complex and layered ideas. Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is arranged in five sections that present the two artists’ work in thematic pairings, emphasizing both their mutual concerns and distinct artistic approaches.
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 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.
Accompanying the exhibition is an illustrated catalogue published with DelMonico Books and distributed by D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.) which documents Bey and Weems’ photographs and includes scholarly essays by GRAM Chief Curator Ron Platt and National Museum of African American History & Culture Deputy Director, Kinshasa Holman Conwill, along with written reflections by both artists.
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. Learn more about Dawoud Bey.
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. Learn more about Carrie Mae Weems.