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Powerful artist's compelling works confront important societal issues
Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me, A Story in 5 Parts, 2012, video installation and mixed media © Carrie Mae Weems. Courtesy of Jack Shainman, New York.

CHESTNUT HILL, MASS.- The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College debuted Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement, a groundbreaking exhibition that examines the American artist’s diverse and innovative career through both celebrated and rarely exhibited projects. The exhibition is on display in the Daley Family and Monan Galleries of the McMullen Museum from September 10 to December 13, 2018.

Weems has produced a unique body of aesthetically and politically powerful work during the last 30 years. She has investigated family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems, and the consequences of power through art, employing photographs, text, fabric, audio, digital images, installation, and video.

“To mount a large number of installation pieces produced over decades by Carrie Mae Weems, one of the most innovative and powerful artists in America today, to have a critical group of faculty from a wide range of disciplines eager to focus scholarly inquiry on that artist’s work, and to display artwork that addresses the most pressing and complex problems in current minds, presents a rare opportunity to a museum,” said McMullen Museum of Art Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer. “With the generosity and wise advice of the artist, the McMullen and faculty curators [Boston College Professor of English] Robin Lydenberg and [Art History faculty member] Ash Anderson have made the most of this good fortune. We are pleased to invite audiences, both here and at the exhibition’s subsequent venues, to engage in myriad ways with the work of Carrie Mae Weems and to ponder the deeper questions she poses for contemporary society.”

A concurrent exhibition in the Museum Atrium—titled Hartmut Austen: Not There, Not Here—presents 22 abstract paintings by artist Hartmut Austen, an assistant professor of painting in BC’s Art, Art History, and Film Department. The works often evoke either interior spaces or landscapes in distress. Created during the past decade, the paintings aim to visualize the transient nature of place.

Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement comprises 124 diverse works including photography, video, and mixed-media. It focuses on the relational aspect of Weems’s art, recreating original installations in which viewers wander among suspended images on translucent fabric, enveloped by the artist’s audio narration, or stand confronted with video and photographic works that expose systems of power and injustice. The resulting immersion in moments of global and historical struggle prepares viewers for a more engaged discussion of American history through such difficult issues as violence, survival, and the need for radical social change. Entering that territory with Weems, according to organizers, visitors have an experience that is intellectually and ethically challenging, sometimes imbued with melancholy seriousness, sometimes with playful or ominous wit, and occasionally with unexpected moments of hope and grace.

Born in Portland, Oregon in 1953, Weems is the recipient of numerous awards, grants, and fellowships including the MacArthur “genius grant”; US Department of State Medal of Arts; Joseph H. Hazen Rome Prize; W. E. B. Du Bois Medal from Harvard University; and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award. Her artwork is included in major public and private collections nationally and internationally. Weems lives and works in Syracuse, New York and is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Organized by the McMullen Museum, Strategies of Engagement is curated by Lydenberg and Anderson. Major support has been provided by the Patrons of the McMullen Museum and Robert ’63 and Ann Marie Reardon P ’91.

“Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement presents a selection of the artist’s work that invites viewers to engage mentally, emotionally, and physically with her passion for truth, her commitment to change, and her belief in the power of beauty, endurance, and grace as the foundation of our humanity,” Lydenberg and Anderson note.

“Weems both deconstructs and recontextualizes a familiar history of violence and injustice, presenting us with new readings, new discomforts, and ultimately new illuminations, all driven by her desire to understand how things came to be as they are. For Weems, the way things are encompasses the present seen through a range of lenses: political, social, spiritual, theoretical, emotional, and aesthetic. In a similarly diverse array of materials, including photographic prints on paper, canvas, and muslin, as well as combinations of video, sound, etched glass, and mixed-media installation, she confronts, among other concerns, the shared history and problematic legacy of anti-black racism in the United States. In keeping with her generous spirit and commitment to dialogue, she gives us a new set of interpretive tools to help us collaborate in the history we construct going forward,” they add.

Strategies of Engagement is accompanied by a catalogue with scholarly essays from the diverse perspectives of art history, literature, race and gender studies, education, sociology, and history.

Following its McMullen Museum debut, the exhibition will travel to Allentown Art Museum (spring 2019) and subsequent venues through art2art Circulating Exhibitions.

Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement
Strategies of Engagement interrogates artwork growing out of Weems’s critical explorations of history; a focus that is powerfully relevant in the context of current activism around racial equality and social justice. In addition to several of Weems’s most acclaimed series, including From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, the exhibition features the extraordinary Lincoln, Lonnie, and Me: A Story in 5 Parts, a theatrical video installation that incorporates the nineteenth-century “Pepper’s Ghost” illusion technique, and the recently created All the Boys, Usual Suspects, and People of a Darker Hue dealing with police violence against unarmed black men and women.

Particularly in her engagement with African American history, the artist—who has spent more than three decades honing her craft—has developed a complex series of strategies, moving beyond a witnessing of the past to more active interventions: appropriating and transforming verbal and visual archives; negotiating with the persistent effects of stereotyping; and animating history in the present as a constructed performance. Weems’s relationship to her viewers is at once pedagogical, confrontational, and collaborative as she engages them in ongoing debates about power and resistance, history and identity, and racial, gender, and class discrimination, organizers note.

In Strategies of Engagement, Weems invites visitors to participate in numerous ways: through physical, emotional, and intellectual engagement with the works, through education and activism, and, perhaps most uniquely, through bodily engagement with history and the bodies of others, a practice she models in photographs and video.

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