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21 January 2014

Praise: Dawoud Bey

First published April 15, 2008


Yes, we can also point out and extol the virtues of artists we admire.

One of the greatest treasures Chicago has is the photographer Dawoud Bey.

Bey was one of my surprise discoveries last year when I was in the Chicago Art Fair. He came to my booth, we talked, I found him very interesting. Back at Wesley's where I was staying, I googled him, my favorite spy tactic. I was amazed at how outstanding his photos were! I had suspected that he would be a good artist, but here I was presented with a great one. His works unite a strong humanism (that disgraced word) with striking formal qualities in service of an art at once aesthetically challenging, sociological (in the best sense) and personal. And all that depth is carried lightly, under a mantel of (seemingly) direct image making.

His most recent works feature pictures ...
of teenagers. On his site, texts taken from statements made by those portrayed are presented under the images. This is one of the most difficult groups of people to portray. Bey carries it off without falling into any cliché: the photos are not formalist misuse, not illustrations of a neo-conceptual stunt, not "stolen" images taken without the subjects knowlege, ... what they are is even better: real portraiture evoking the inner conflicts of the subjects, their societal positions, their awkward hopes --- in short their humanity. Bey has courage as well as ability.

On another note, his essay "The Black Artist as Invisible (Wo)Man" is erudite and historically important. It was published in the catalogue for the important exhibition "High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967-1975" (organized by Katy Siegel and David Reed and discussed on Sharkforum in several past posts).

Check out his website. Go see his shows. This is a great artist to be extolled, supported and presented.

Some facts about him stolen from his bio:

Dawoud Bey began his career as a photographer in 1975 with a series of photographs, "Harlem, USA," that were later exhibited in his first one-person exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. He has since had numerous exhibitions worldwide, at such institutions as The Art Institute of Chicago, The Barbican Centre in London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT, the Walker Art Center, the Yale Art Gallery in New Haven, CT, the Wexner Center for the Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, where his works were also included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial

The Walker Art Center organized a mid-career survey of his work in 1995 that traveled to institutions throughout the United States and Europe. A major publication, Dawoud Bey: Portraits, 1975-1995 was published in conjunction with the exhibition. Aperture has just published his latest project Class Pictures.

Dawoud Bey's works are included in the permanent collections of numerous museums, both here in America and in Europe, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the High Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, National Portrait Gallery in London, Whitney Museum of American Art, Yale Art Gallery and many others.

He has received numerous awards and fellowships over the course of his career including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Since 1992 he has completed a number of collaborative projects working with young people and museums. These projects have involved young people, museums and cultural institutions together in a broad dialogue that seeks to create an engaging space for art making and institutional interrogation. These projects have also been aimed at broadening the participation of various communities in these institutions.

His critical writings on contemporary art have appeared in a range of catalogues and critical journals throughout the United States and Europe. He is the author of several groundbreaking essays, including the recent essay, "The Black Artist as Invisible (Wo)Man" in 'High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967-1975,' which places the work of African American artists Al Loving, Joe Overstreet, Howardena Pindell, and Jack Whitten within this important moment in art history. He is also the author of "David Hammons: In the Spirit of Minkisi," which was the first essay to place this important African American artist within the tradition of Black Atlantic cosmological tradition. This essay appeared as the catalogue essay for Hammon's survery exhibition at the Salzburger Kunstverein in Vienna. "Authoring the Black Image" appeared in the Art Institute of Chicago's book, The Van Der Zee Studio, accompanying the exhibition of the same title. Dawoud Bey has taught at colleges, universities, and other institutions for the past thirty years, and is currently professor of photography at Columbia College Chicago. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University School of Art, and is presently represented in the United States by Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago.

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