Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video opened at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University with much fanfare last week. First, there was a reception for patrons and members to preview the show and mingle with the artist. Then, a throng of local community members, professionals, Stanford students and professors crowded into an auditorium nearby to hear Weems speak of her work, her passions, her inspirations.
The attention is warranted. The artist and social activist has built her career representing the complexity of the human race, using sarcasm to challenge cultural mores and spurring conversation about identity, gender, race and class. She was also a recipient of this year’s MacArthur Foundation fellowship, an acknowledgment reserved for geniuses.
Eleven years after Weems received her first camera as a birthday gift, she exhibited “Family Pictures and Stories” at the Multi-Cultural Gallery in San Diego. Though the series of her middle-class family was completed in 1984, the chaos and family dynamics captured in the images have a quality of everlasting relevance and familiarity.
The black-and-white photographs are complimented by a recording of Weems’ rich voice describing her family members’ lives. It pours over the top of the retrospective at the Cantor Arts Center, coaxing visitors to meander through the over 100 photographs, videos and installations.
One of Weems' signature works is "The Kitchen Table Series" from 1990. The 14 large, black-and-white photographs feature vignettes about a black woman – Weems herself – and her struggle with marriage, motherhood and friendship. Like with “Family Pictures and Stories,” Weems makes the character's anguish over everyday life seem familiar by staging the series around a kitchen table, a gathering spot in many homes.
Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video is in the midst of a cross-country tour. Last month, it opened at the Center for Visual Arts in Nashville, before traveling to the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, where Weems grew up, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. After the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, it will make its final stop at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Exhibition now through January 5, 2014 at The Cantor Arts Center, open Weds–Sun, 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m. Admission is free. The Cantor is located on the Stanford campus, off Palm Drive at Museum Way.