I often hear the platitude that art thrives when artists are forced into action by life or death necessity. But, what might this new politically engaged art actually do to combat racism, xenophobia, misogyny and a host of other threats that have already appeared well before Trump’s inauguration?
Carrie Mae Weems’s two current exhibitions, on view at both Jack Shainman galleries, seem to offer an answer: art can act as a witness. In the dual shows, Weems shines a light on violence, institutional silence, judicial ignorance and black underrepresentation. This is seen most vividly her gut-wrenching take on the killings of unarmed black men and women by police in the 24th street space. Not all the pieces in Weems’s shows force viewers to witness these crimes, but those that do drag these issues into view for a Chelsea art audience, rendering a passive and apolitical viewing experience almost impossible.