Carrie Mae Weems' exhibition reviewed in The New York Times, 29 Feb 2008

CARRIE MAE WEEMS (Penn MFA Senior Critic and Visiting Professor)

A Survey
Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street, Chelsea
Through March 8

I don’t know why Carrie Mae Weems hasn’t had a midcareer museum retrospective. No American photographer of the last quarter-century — her first solo show was in 1984 — has turned out a more probing, varied and moving body of work. None has made more adventurous use of the photographic medium, adding performance, film and installation to the serial print format. Ms. Weems has not wanted for institutional attention; but the topographical view that a retrospective offers is missing.

So “A Survey,” her debut at Shainman, will have to do for now. The show takes Ms. Weems’s work back to the early 1990s, with the haunting “Sea Islands Series” of photo-and-text pieces that evoke African-American lives off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. It continues with bits from several mid-1990s projects, among them the extraordinary meditations on the anthropology of race called “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried” (1995). It comes up to date with photographs and videos from 2005-6, made when she was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

All together it’s a lot, too much really for one gallery to comfortably handle, even with a crunched chronological span. The great early “Family Pictures and Stories” is missing and some large series are edited down to an image or two.

Drastic editing is a problem with art as ambitious as Ms. Weems’s, for as often as not its full effect comes from a kind of cinematic accumulation and the variation of images and ideas. The resources of a museum would effortlessly finesse the problem, and transform a tight sampler survey into the expansive and immersive experience it deserves to be.

--HOLLAND COTTER, Art Critic, The New York Times

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