Interview with Jack Shainman, Gallerist and Owner, Art Basel 2015

This year Jack Shainman Gallery participates in the Feature sector at Art Basel with a presentation dedicated to American artist Carrie Mae Weems. Part of a selection of carefully curated projects, the gallery’s stand will be the first showcase of Weems’ work in Switzerland – an exciting continuation of her major exhibition at the Guggenheim New York in 2014. Regarded as one of the most influential contemporary African-American artists, Weems explores themes of family relationships, cultural identity, sexism, class, political systems and power across the art forms of audio, installation video and most notably, photography. We speak to Jack Shainman, Gallerist and Owner, about the importance of Weems’ presence amongst the gallery’s impressive line-up of practitioners, as well as well the highly anticipated impact of her work at Art Basel.

A: Jack Shainman will be presenting a display of work by Carrie Mae Weems at Art Basel – the artist’s first solo showcase in Switzerland. Why is Weems’ practice a valuable addition to both the gallery and the art fair?
JS: Carrie’s work inspires tremendous emotion and holds a kind of power you don’t often witness in contemporary art. She is a natural story teller; her photographs have weight but a lightness and universality at the same time. Subtle yet poignant, people really respond to her work.

A: With the continued momentum of the artist’s hugely successful Guggenheim show last year, this promises to be a highly anticipated retrospective. Which of her works are you looking forward to exhibiting the most?
JS: It’s hard to narrow down which of her works I’m most excited about. We will have some of the series she’s most known for such as the Kitchen Table and From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, but we’re also looking at the fair as an opportunity to show less-seen photographs like Louisiana Project, Dreaming in Cuba as well as some of her most recent work, Color Real and Imagined and a piece that is an expansion of the Slow Fade to Black series.

A: Weems has explored themes of class, cultural identity and sexism throughout the past 30 years of her career. How do you think her work will be received by audiences at Art Basel?
JS: One of the things I love most about Carrie’s work is that while she uses herself often as a model for her photographs, these are not self-portraits. She creates these scenes in which she becomes a stand-in for everyone. There is something so universal about the Kitchen Table series for instance. We follow this woman, played by Carrie, as her life unfolds around the centrepiece of the home, the kitchen table, drawing on experiences of which we are all familiar with ourselves.

A: Jack Shainman has hosted numerous shows that inspire thought and dialogue about race and gender equality such as Unbranded: A Century of White Women. How does the work of Weems add to this ongoing exchange?
JS: I tend to gravitate towards work that challenges the viewer, and that isn’t happy just being decorative or reiterating what everyone else seems to be saying. Our artists, including Carrie, are the same. They are constantly working on the next thing, and in many cases that doesn’t stop at the four gallery walls. Carrie is one of quite a few of our artists, like Titus Kaphar, Nick Cave and Hank Willis Thomas, who are interested in engaging people on a social level with community outreach projects. I’m proud to work with artists that want to engage with communities that might not ordinarily be exposed to their work.

A: Aside from Art Basel, what does the gallery have planned for the rest of 2015 and beyond?
JS: We currently have a solo exhibition of Havana-based Yoan Capote’s work spanning both our Chelsea spaces through July, as well as a five decade survey of El Anatsui’s work on view upstate at The School in Kinderhook, New York, through September. Looking ahead to the fall, we’ll have our first solo exhibition with Enrique Martinez Celaya, followed by Vibha Galhotra, Carlos Vega, Toyin Odutola and Odili Donald Odita. Outside the gallery, Nick Cave: Hear Here opens 20 June at Cranbrook Art Museum. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is currently on view at Serpentine Gallery through 13 September, Titus Kaphar’s Vesper Project is at the Cincinnati Art Center through 11 October, and Meleko Mokgosi is on view at ICA Boston through 9 August.

Jack Shainman at Art Basel, 18 – 21 June, MCH Swiss Exhibition, Messeplatz, 4058 Basel, Switzerland.

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1. Carrie Mae Weems, I Looked and Looked but Failed to See What so Terrified You (Louisiana Project series), 2003. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.