We are excited to announce our latest additions to the David Winton Bell Gallery collection – Untitled (woman touching man’s face) and Untitled (smoking) from Carrie Mae Weems’ The Kitchen Table Series. Generally considered to be one of Weems’ most important bodies of work, The Kitchen Table Series paved the way for a generation of contemporary artists to explore issues of representation. She frames her content, comprised of themes like racism, sexism, identity, and politics, with a nuance that introduces humanity into conversations often dominated by idealizations and abstractions. According the artist herself, her artwork situates the concept of social inclusion in the context of the “complex, dimensional human experience.”[i]
Confronting the exclusion of black women and families from generalizable representation in mainstream media, The Kitchen Table Series empathetically depicts the intimacy and complexity of familial relationships. Consisting of twenty images of the artist with her lover, friends, and daughter around a brightly lit table, Weems frames the Black experience as something universal and deeply relatable. However, despite the organic tenderness these images convey, these compassionate moments are in fact planned, cast, and expertly crafted. According to Weems, the interplay between the sincere and the staged derives from her interest in constructed histories, storytelling, and the performance of identity rather than mere autobiography.[ii]
The performativity and constructed quality of identity is particularly evident in the juxtaposition of the two new acquisitions. In Untitled (woman touching man’s face), Weems frames herself as a quintessential caring spouse who puts the needs of her male companion above her own. She focuses all her attention on her lover as he eats, touching neither her own dinner nor her wine. The birdcage behind them can be read as indexing her familial position as that of a domesticated woman whose life depends on her lover and her position in the home. By contrast, Untitled (smoking) places Weems in a position of authority at the head of the table, flanked by images of Malcolm X and black power. While she looks shrewdly at her companion and holds her cards close to her chest, a viewer can see her partner’s hand perfectly, placing his vulnerability in stark contrast with her guarded confidence. Depicting two very different feminine identities embodied by one woman, Weems transforms her own visage into a dynamic, complex, and universally relatable character.
Though Weems also works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video, she is best known for her work in photography. Weems holds a BA from the California Institute of the Arts, where she studied with artists including Robert Morris, Anna Halprin, and John Cage. She received her MFA from the University of California, San Diego and also participated in a graduate program in folklore at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Grant and a Ford Fellowship, as well numerous residencies and visiting professor positions. She exhibits globally, most notably at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Tate Museum in London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Currently, she lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
– Rica Maestas
[i] Tidwell, Daniel. “Seeing the Unseen Carrie Mae Weems.” Nashville Arts Magazine 20 June 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.
[ii] “Carrie Mae Weems By Dawoud Bey” BOMB Magazine, 2009. Web. 14 Apr. 2017.