While the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Ball is all about fashion, across the East River the Brooklyn Museum’s Artists Ball is all about art.
Keeping true to that, the 12th annual Artists Ball will honor trailblazing artist and activist Carrie Mae Weems, whose 40-plus-year career cannot be defined by any one metier. The multidimensional talent’s body of work includes photographs, text, fabric, mixed media and installations. Through that she has documented the Black experience looking at themes of sexism, class and political systems, as well as challenging systemic violence against Black people.
Weems’ art will soon be featured in an exhibition at the museum titled “A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration,” which traces the movement of millions of Black Americans from the post-Reconstruction South to other parts of the country. Her work has been featured in such shows at the museum as one in 2017, “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85,” and another in 2008, “Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection.”
The Brooklyn Museum’s director Anne Pasternak said deciding to salute Weems at the April 25 gala didn’t involve a competition with anyone else. “When you think about what artists have had and are having great impact on the world, Carrie Mae comes to mind, frankly, quite immediately. She was the first and only person that we thought about for this year,” Pasternak said.
Although the spring gala is all about artists, for the first time this year it will be presented by Dior. Having first partnered for the fall 2021 debut of “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” at the museum, the brand’s interest in staying involved and supporting the gala “thrilled” museum officials, Pasternak said. “They are such an artists-centered organization. They are so in tune with our audiences.”
Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri was honored at last year’s ball and she will co-chair this year’s gala with Regina Aldisert, Henry Elsesser, Marley B. Lewis, Janet Mock and Carla Shen. The art-centric host committee is made up of Marilyn Minter, Judy Chicago, KAWS, Jesse Krimes, Antwaun Sargent and Laurie Simmons. Artist and Brooklyn Museum board member Mickalene Thomas will be handling the decor at this year’s event.
Inevitably, the Artists’ Ball faces comparison to The Met Gala but each has its own place. Pasternak said, “The Met Ball is the fashion ball. This is the artists’ ball. This is an event that we have been doing for a very long time. This is not about celebrities coming in the latest gowns. This is about artists and people who love artists coming together and celebrating. It’s a very diverse audience. It’s a very fun party — Swizz Beatz DJs every year. There’s no comparison. It’s a completely different thing. The Met Gala is really to support their Costume Institute. The Artists Ball supports everything the [Brooklyn] Museum does.”
Recalling how when she first joined the Brooklyn Museum seven years ago, Pasternak said, “People used to say, ‘Well, we’re number two to The Met?’”
She continued, “Who wants to be number two, right?”
To that end, the team has been “putting a lot of effort into making the Brooklyn Museum a serious destination. We needed to carve out space that was additive in a city with extraordinary museums. So we decided that we need to be more like Brooklyn — progressive, curious, with a sense of humor, imperfect, embracing all of the different art forms, inclusive. We have been able to carve out some space through our exhibitions and programs. We’re seeing that because people are coming in record numbers to the museum.”
Noting how the Jan. 28 “First Saturday” celebration at the museum marked the 25th anniversary of that event, Pasternak said, “It was not lost on me, while watching thousands of young people, primarily BIPOC, dancing, celebrating, singing along to the music, learning poetry readings and taking curator tours in the galleries, that [that was happening] two weeks after Tyre Nichols was murdered [in Memphis, Tennessee]. The fact that the museum is known to be a welcoming and safe space for all people to come, celebrate, have joy and learn is something that we have worked very hard to do. It’s been very intentional.”
Saluting Weems is in line with that ideology in that the artist “has held up a mirror to societal exclusions and omissions, especially those in the art world in ways that really shocked and hanged the system,” Pasternak said. “With grace, bold honesty and beauty, she has been promoting the dignity of Black women and families. She was doing this at a time, when the Black family was being derided in the mainstream media. She’s organized and built a Black community with fellow artists because there is power in numbers. We worked with her during COVID-19, when she was doing her public service campaign [‘Resist COVID/Take 6!’] about how Black people need to protect themselves because Black and brown people were most affected by COVID-19. Her scope is limitless. We love to recognize not just the excellence of the artist, but the excellence of their practice as a whole. Really, there could not be a better honoree than Carrie Mae.”