National Gallery of Art acquires works by JoAnn Verburg and Carrie Mae Weems
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National Gallery of Art acquires works by JoAnn Verburg and Carrie Mae Weems
Carrie Mae Weems, Echoes for Marian, 2014.Chromogenic print, image: 127 x 127 cm (50 x 50 in.) sheet: 182.88 x 152.4 cm (72 x 60 in.) framed: 186.69 x 156.21 cm (73 1/2 x 61 1/2 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington. Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder 2021.8.1

WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Gallery of Art has recently acquired two important photographs by JoAnn Verburg, 3 x Three (2019) and WTC (2003). The first works by Verburg to enter the National Gallery’s collection, they show how she seeks to capture extended moments of time in her art, a theme that she has explored since the 1970s.

Best known for her work from the mid-1990s onward that depicts olive groves in Spoletto, Italy, Verburg has written that when she's making her photographs, she often torques the image, "squeezing and stretching it . . . into being more lively or wacky or improbable." In the triptych 3 x Three, she creates a sense of motion in the olive groves’ branches and leaves, as if a breeze were blowing. Verburg made multiple panels, each a slightly different view of the same subject, giving viewers the sense that they are moving through the space, discovering it with her.

In WTC Verburg photographed her husband in a scene that evokes a sense of calm relaxation, a quiet Sunday spent reading the newspaper. On the front of the paper the viewer sees two faint, identically sized skyscrapers—images that, for many people, immediately conjure the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York City, destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

The headlines, "The Week in Review," "What Would Victory Mean?" and "The Clamor of a Free People" on the front page, "Before and After" on the back, point to that pivotal event as a moment of profound change. The dichotomies that Verburg explores in this image—between the personal and the sociocultural, the interior and the exterior—illustrate both the responsibility and the struggle that human beings face in integrating external events into their daily lives.

First Photograph Featuring Monuments by Carrie Mae Weems Acquired

Celebrated for her ability to explore issues of race, class, gender, power, and injustice with eloquent insight and passionate conviction, Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953) often uses the past to shine a light on the present. In her photograph Echoes for Marian (2014), Weems depicts herself standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, showing how architecture can not only exude a sense of power but also reinforce it. Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder recently gave Echoes for Marian to the National Gallery of Art.

The work’s title alludes to Marian Anderson, the African American opera singer who, in 1939 during the era of racial segregation, was barred by the Daughters of the American Revolution from performing in front of an integrated audience at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, because of her race. With support of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson instead sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Weems recalls this seminal moment in the quest for civil rights not only through her choice of location and title, but also through her pose and clothing—all of which evoke Anderson, whose courage and determination paved the way for future generations of African American artists. Commissioned by the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE), Weems made Echoes for Marian to hang in a US embassy, visible evidence to the world at large of the nation’s history of segregation.

The National Gallery has a large collection of Weems’s work made between 1990 and 2017. This photograph, with its powerful reference to the iconic architecture that defines Washington, DC, is the first example of Weems’s photographs of monuments to enter the collection.

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