Dawoud Bey's career retrospective, An American Project, opens at the Whitney

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Dawoud Bey's career retrospective, An American Project, opens at the Whitney
Dawoud Bey, Two Girls from a Marching Band, Harlem, NY, 1990. Inkjet print, 30 x 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm). © Dawoud Bey and courtesy of the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, Stephen Daiter Gallery, and Rena Bransten Gallery.



NEW YORK, NY.- Dawoud Bey: An American Project will open at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, on April 17, 2021.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project presents works from throughout Bey's over four-decades-long career and highlights his commitment to portraying the Black subject and African American history in a manner that is at once direct and poetic, immediate and symbolic. The exhibition’s title intentionally inserts Bey’s photographs into a long-running conversation about what it means to represent America with a camera. There is a rich tradition of ‘American’ projects’, including Walker Evans’s American Photographs (1938), Robert Frank’s The Americans (1958), Lee Friedlander’s The American Monument (1976) and Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects (1987). The question of who is considered an American photographer, or simply an American, and whose story is an American story are particularly urgent today. Bey's work offers a potent corrective to the gaps in our picture of American society and history—and an emphatic reminder of the ongoing impact of those omissions.

Organized thematically and chronologically, the exhibition features work from eight major series, including his early tender and perceptive portraits of Harlem residents Harlem U.S.A. (1975-79), large-scale color Polaroids, and a series of collaborative word and image portraits of high school students, amongst other notable works. Also featured are more recent projects: The Birmingham Project, 2012 commemorates the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in a series of profoundly affective portrait diptychs. Lately, Bey has turned to landscape: Night Coming Tenderly, Black, 2018, depicts in deep shades of black and gray, the imagined experience of a fugitive slave moving along the Underground Railroad, marking a formal departure from the artist's earlier work in portraiture, but considering the same existential questions about race, history, and the possibility of bearing witness through contemporary photography. Bey sees making art as a personal expression and as an act of social and political engagement, emphasizing the necessary work of artists and art institutions to break down obstacles to access, convene communities, and foster dialogue.

Dawoud Bey (b. 1953) is recognized as one of his generation's most innovative and influential photographers. Since the beginning of his career, Bey has used his camera to visualize communities and histories that have largely remained underrepresented or even unseen. Starting with his earliest body of work, Harlem, USA, 1975–79, Bey has worked primarily in portraiture, making direct and psychologically resonant portrayals of socially marginalized subjects.

Dawoud Bey: An American Project is co-organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition is co-curated by Elisabeth Sherman, assistant curator at the Whitney, and Corey Keller, curator of photography at SFMOMA.










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