GRAM features new exhibits highlighting creators


GVL / Max Ritchie

Sabrina Edwards, Arts and Entertainment Editor

The Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) is now featuring two new exhibits that celebrate and bring awareness to Black culture. These first exhibit highlight the work of Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems in “Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue.” The second, “Seen and Not Seen,” features work from local Grand Rapids artists. Both exhibits opened on Jan. 29 and will be at the GRAM until April 30.

“GRAM’s Chief Curator Ron Platt conceptualized ‘Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue’ when he met with the artists back in 2018, whose questions and contributions significantly informed the framework and outcome of this exhibition,” said Alaina Taylor, GRAM Communication Assistant. “Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems are two of the most important and influential photo-based artists of our time.”

Bey and Weems are showcasing a focused selection from over 40 years of work. Both were born in 1953, during a time of social change in America. Bey and Weems have both tackled the same topics, race, class, representation and systems of power in work surrounding African American events. The two focus on the human condition and how real people have been affected by these situations.

“This exhibition spans five decades in their careers, shedding new light on their distinct artistic approaches and trajectories, as well as their shared focus on amplifying communities and experiences that have been underrepresented throughout history,” Taylor said.

Their work is centered on Black experiences throughout their lives and how their communities have experienced major social events. Many times this has been seen through the eyes of white creators, but it impacts every community in different ways.

GVL / Max Ritchie

“From the beginning of their careers, both artists knew their lived experience as Black Americans was vastly different from the narrow and prescriptive representations in mainstream American culture,” Taylor said. “Both saw how they could use the medium of photography to visually record their own presence in the world, and to create authentic images of Black Americans. This exhibition is grounded in those specific African American realities while simultaneously speaking to the universal human condition.”

This is the first time their work has been shown together like this and after it will be traveling to other cities to be shown in the same way.

“’Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue,’ as the title suggests, centers around a relationship between two artists,” said GRAM Chief Curator Ron Platt. “Their relationship is rooted in personal, social, and aesthetic concerns, and demonstrates the two artists’ instincts for interpersonal connection, as well as the strategies they have learned and engaged to navigate and succeed in an art world with narrow confines. For Bey and Weems, dialogue is as crucial to their art practice as unique creative vision.”

“We hope guests find inspiration in the historic and culturally significant work of Bey and Weems and can reflect on their own identity and self-exploration,” Taylor said. “This exhibition is accompanied by two large-scale timelines in the galleries: one of significant personal and historical events tracking across Bey and Weems’ careers, as well as an interactive community timeline.”

While it is on display during Black History Month, that isn’t the only reason why the GRAM has these pieces on display now.

“‘In Dialogue’ is on view at the Museum through April 30, 2022,” Taylor said. “GRAM is committed to acquiring, exhibiting, and promoting the work of Black artists year-round.”

While this exhibit is active right now, there is another live right now, “Seen and Not Seen.” This highlights local artists who all have different styles, but focus on many of the same topics.

GVL / Max Ritchie

“Shown concurrently with ‘Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue,’ ‘Seen and Not Seen’ is an exhibition of photographs by three Grand Rapids-based artists, whose styles greatly differ but who share a common ground in their motivation to create meaning through contemporary photography,” Taylor said. “Artists Hwa-Jeen Na, Leandro Lara and Kade Maycroft use photography as a language through which private experiences and intimate memories are conveyed to the viewer.”

Na is a portrait photographer and film director. His work focuses on defining identity through personal anecdotes and cultural influences.

Lara is a documentarian and portrait photographer who is inspired by daily life from his peers and family. Lara frequently travels and documents the world around him.

Maycroft is a self-taught transgender artist who works in film photography. He often photographs the mundane, offering narratives for what he sees in his daily life. Maycroft also has a passion for woodworking and framed all of his pieces that are being exhibited himself.

While all of these artists have different passions and backgrounds, they all share a similar interest of wanting to document the world around them. All of them are using photography to share their own personal stories and how they see the world.

On March 24 the GRAM is hosting Bey and Weems for an artist talk on their years as young photographers in New York, their ongoing friendship and the influence and impact they have had on one another over the past 45 years. This event will also be available virtually for those who can’t attend in-person. The registration for this event will open to the public on Feb. 28 via the GRAMs website.

“We look forward to welcoming guests to GRAM to see the work of Bey and Weems as well as reflect on the work of local photographers here in Grand Rapids,” Taylor said.