Jack Shainman Gallery is pleased to announce Carrie Mae Weems’ first solo exhibition in New York City since the historic retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2014. Her influential career continues to address the rifts caused by race, class, and gender via imagery and text that is both sharply direct and beautifully poetic. This two-part exhibition highlights her recent investigations into performance, entertainment, and history.
Blue Notes (2014) highlights figures on the periphery, bringing them front and center. The photographic series is paired with the enigmatic video installation Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me (2012), originally commissioned by the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA. The work rests on a 19th century optical trick, “Pepper’s ghost,” in which a strategically lit pane of glass reflects people and objects as dematerialized versions on stage. Weems employs this phantasmagoria to examine her own relationship to history and two individuals in particular: the 16th president of the United States and artist/activist Lonnie Graham, her sometime collaborator. Here history becomes theater, a succession of ghostly projections that draw us in to the strange ways in which representation seduces and manipulates, and how some are left out of history altogether, their apparitions left to haunt the expanses of Western culture.
The theme of performance continues with Scenes & Take (2016). Weems dons her black-robed muse persona—recognizable from the now iconic Roaming and Museums series—to stand before empty stage sets, documenting these encounters with vivid color photographs. The contemplative pose of the artist raises issues of who gets to be shown on screen; what do the fictional characters in television, theater, cinema, and visual art say about the cultural climate in which they are created, and how do these representations shift across time?
All the Boys (2016) responds to the recent killings of young African American men and suggests a darker reality of identity construction. Portraits of black men in hooded sweatshirts are matched with text panels. The written descriptions evoke police reports, underscoring how a demographic is all-too-often targeted and presumed guilty by a system plagued with prejudice.
Taken as a whole, the exhibition demonstrates that visual representation is ultimately performance: a tightly composed, laborious narrative. It takes serious work to unravel and refocus the greater dialogue toward inclusivity and acceptance. To look closely—past the bright lights, illusions, and constructions—is the first, crucial step.