“It’s fair to say that black folks operate under a cloud of invisibility—this is part of the work, is indeed central to the work. …. It’s an aesthetic thing; blackness is an affront to the persistence of whiteness.” Carrie Mae Weems (interview in Bomb with Dawoud Bey, 2009)
Carrie Mae Weems’ retrospective at the Guggenheim opened in time for Black History Month and through her powerful images she says a lot about black history. The photographs affected me deeply. They are beautiful, thought-provoking, disturbing, empowering and eye-opening. This small exhibition hits nerves and brings up all sorts of feelings. Have we gained any understanding of race? Carrie Mae Weems draws us in with her art and then WHAM! she forces us to confront our discomfort about race and social class. Her images can be the catalyst for the discussions we need to be having with one another.
This exhibition has only half of the images that were in the original show organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. This is a shame. To add insult to injury, the exhibit at the Guggenheim is divided into two separate galleries on different levels. (There is a video installation on third level that you need to time right in order to see it in its entirety.) For me this broke up the show’s continuity. It would have been even more effective if this exhibition included all the images and was the main show hung throughout the rotunda. Instead it will become the side-show to the larger exhibit of Italian Futurism when that show opens on February 21. The sublime to the ridiculous will be juxtaposed.
Weems’ photographs say something important. They made me uncomfortable, but I suppose that is her intent. It is a show that should be seen by people of all color, all ages and all genders and it should be seen more than once. Unfortunately with an admission of $22/adults and $18/students the Guggenheim puts this exhibit out of reach for many in the audience that Weems wants to reach and to whom she is speaking.