Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue at Getty
Exhibition illuminates the artists’ mutual passions and concerns
as well as their unique and powerful personal visions.
Left: Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shaman Gallery, New York. Carrie Mae Weems. Right: J. Paul Getty Museum. Dawoud Bey. Design 2023
J. Paul Getty Trust
LOS ANGELES — Since meeting at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1977, Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems have been intellectual colleagues and companions. From the outset of their careers, both have operated from a deep social commitment to participate in, describe, and define culture. In seeking to express themselves fully, each has expanded possibilities within photography and video to address their chosen subjects.
Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, on view April 4 through July 9, 2023, brings together for the first time a focused selection of work from a period of over 40 years by two of today’s most important and influential photo-based artists. Each grapples with issues of race, class, and representation in their work, making art grounded in the experiences and realities of Black Americans while also speaking to the broader human condition.
“The Museum’s department of Photographs has made great strides in recent years in building an exhibitions program that highlights more expansive narratives of photographic history,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems are two artists who reframe American traumas that have been ignored or simplified in the national historical record. We are proud to showcase their work in dialogue with one another.”
Jim Ganz, Senior Curator of Photographs, adds, “These artists are two of the most dynamic and insightful of our time. As presented in this extraordinary exhibition, their eloquent dialogue gives unique perspective on their shared concerns as image makers.”
Dawoud Bey (American, born 1953) creates photographs that focus on individuals, communities, and important but often overlooked American histories. His carefully composed images convey the dignity and rich inner lives of his subjects. Carrie Mae Weems (American, born 1953) first gained recognition in the 1980s for exploring identity, race, power, and history, themes that still fuel her art. Over her career, Weems has turned increasingly to staged photography and the use of text to heighten the emotional intensity of her work.
This exhibition is divided into five sections, starting with early pictures that both artists made in the photodocumentary tradition and followed by ambitious, groundbreaking explorations of the medium as it developed technologically and artistically. The exhibition then focuses on how both artists moved beyond candid pictures of everyday life and began making larger scale work that is more planned than spontaneous. Bey’s portraiture evolved from street-based glimpses of the world made with a handheld camera to portraits that are formal but intimate, in which his subjects appear at ease and engage directly with the lens. With her Kitchen Table Series, Weems transitioned from representing real people in their natural environments to creating staged photo essays. For each artist, the techniques developed in this period became the foundation for future projects.
In Resurrecting Black Histories, each artist addresses the 19th century and its legacies in distinctive ways. Bey’s carefully composed landscapes evoke the experience of fleeing along the Underground Railroad, the clandestine network that helped enslaved people escape the South. Weems, by incorporating texts that intermingle past and present, references African Americans whose lives and stories have been co-opted or lost.
In Memorial & Requiem, Bey and Weems reference traumatic 20th-century events. They worked with community partners to stage scenes meant to reinvigorate discussion of the American legacy of racial violence. Each photographer also created a related video, bringing their own sensibility—Bey’s searching, intimate gaze; Weems’ choreographed social commentary—to the moving image, using sequencing and sound to deepen engagement with American history.
The exhibition ends with Revelation in the Landscape, where both Bey and Weems contemplate the built environments in which we live and how those spaces affect our perceptions of the world and ourselves. Bey returns to the Harlem neighborhoods he photographed in the late 1970s, tracking the changes wrought by gentrification. Weems photographs imposing sites in Rome, inserting herself into historical places imbued with power and legacy. Both series reveal the economic and institutional forces that shape daily life.
In conjunction with the exhibition Getty has created a community program inspired by the exhibition, L.A.: In Dialogue. This program brings Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue to a wider Los Angeles community, furthering the influence of the two artists and introducing their work to a new generation of artists and viewers. This artist-led program will host educational workshops for local teens and young adult photographers and will teach participants techniques in black-and-white photography and the artistic practice of capturing portraiture and place. They will explore themes from the exhibition, collaborate with peers, and explore their local communities: Culver City (Black Image Center), South LA (LA Commons), Downtown LA (Inner-City Arts), and Venice Beach (Venice Arts). This program will result in a satellite exhibition that will open in June 2023.