Carrie Mae Weems at the Guggenheim!

Carrie Mae Weems has a show currently playing at the Guggenheim, and it is all sorts of Must See Photography! It's a thirty-year retrospective of her work, culling a lot of her greatest pieces and serving all sorts of commentary to the viewer. Pay attention so you can answer back! There are a few things that make this work stand out.  For one, it is completely accessible to the viewer no matter what walk of life you are coming from. You do not have to understand the background of her politics, or "get" photography as art, in order to walk away impacted by this exhibit. I would imagine most artists are trying to get their work to this place- where anyone can come and engage with the pieces, and still see beauty and merit in them. Weems also has a special talent for taking historical photographs and rendering them to make new commentary. She does this through altering colors, changing sharpness and applying text to the images.

Having seen Weem's photography before, I was most impressed by her writings. They were everything! The didactics helped to situate the piece, but Weem's personal texts that were meant to accompany the pieces, turned her work into stories that you wanted to read more of. Even without her visuals, I could have pictured some of the scenes coming to life- particularly in "The Kitchen Table Series" just by reading her texts.

Music plays a large part in these texts and through several pieces at the exhibit. The song lyrics are woven into the stories of the man and woman in "The Kitchen Table Series." There's everything from blues song, to children rhymes, to spirituals. In "From Here I Saw What Happened And I Cried," music is used from sheet music (God Bless the Child) and the refrain of  "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" And even in pieces where music is not explicitly included, the feeling and remembrance is there, such as in "Slow Fade to Black" which showcases blurred images of three famous African American starlets.

The cool thing about a retrospective is it allows you to see an artist's work over time. You develop an appreciation for how the work has evolved.  With Weems the viewer gets a seat at her kitchen table and can dish on life: love, family, careers, race, gender and age. It's an inviting conversation and you definitely leave with something to say. 


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