The Museum is now open. Your health and safety remains our top priority. Learn more.

Museum Director Marcelle Giving a Press Preview

Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Posted on April 5th, 2009

Milwaukee, WI, March 16—The words and faces of forty students make up a penetrating view into contemporary American youth in Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey, on view April 16–July 12, 2009 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. A compelling juxtaposition of first- and third-person perspectives, the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue challenge teenage stereotypes as they present a highly diverse portrait of a generation. The occasion brings Bey to the Museum for an artist talk and reception on Thursday, April 23, 2009.

To create Class Pictures, Dawoud Bey spent three to four weeks in each of seventeen public and private schools on both coasts and in the Midwest, taking formal portraits of individual students. Each of the forty photographs on view is made in a classroom or other school setting during one forty-five-minute period. At the start of the sitting, each subject writes a brief autobiographical statement. By turns poignant, funny, or harrowing, these revealing words are an integral part of the project, and appear alongside each photograph in the exhibition.

Together, the words and images in Class Pictures offer unusually respectful and perceptive portraits that establish Dawoud Bey as one of the best portraitists at work today. For the past fifteen years, the artist has made striking, large-scale color portraits of students at high schools across the United States. Depicting teenagers from a wide economic, social, and ethnic spectrum—and intensely attentive to their poses and gestures—he has created a supremely nuanced group portrait of young America.

Aperture, a not-for-profit organization devoted to photography and the visual arts, has organized this traveling exhibition and produced the accompanying publications. The exhibition is coordinated at the Milwaukee Art Museum by Curator of Photographs Lisa Hostetler. The exhibition is sponsored by the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Contemporary Arts Society, Rockwell Automation, and Joanne Murphy.

About the Artist
Dawoud Bey (b. New York, 1953) earned his MFA from Yale University School of Art and is professor of photography at Columbia College Chicago. He has been featured in numerous exhibitions—including a mid-career survey at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 1995—and received several awards, including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Bey has exhibited photographs in institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; National Portrait Gallery, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, where he was included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial.

Exhibition Catalogue
Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey presents 70 full-color images from the artist’s project alongside their respective student-authored texts. Published by the Aperture Foundation, with essays by Jock Reynolds and Taro Nettleton, the hardcover volume is 164 pages. The book also features an interview with the artist conducted by Carrie Mae Weems, and a chronology of the artist’s life and career. Available in the Milwaukee Art Museum Store ($45/$40.50 Member): 414-224-3210 or www.mam.org/store

Press Tour
Thursday, April 23, 11:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Tour the galleries with the artist and coordinating curator Lisa Hostetler, followed by lunch in the Museum’s Café Calatrava. To RSVP contact John Eding, 414-224-3246/john.eding@mam.org

Artist Talk and Book Signing with Reception
Thursday, April 23, 6:15 p.m.
Lubar Auditorium
Free with Museum admission
Join the artist for a conversation about portraiture with Curator of Photographs Lisa Hostetler, followed by a reception and book-signing with refreshments in the Baumgartner Galleria. Co-sponsored by the African American Art Alliance and the Photography Council

Gallery Talks
Tuesday, April 28 and June 16, 1:30 p.m.
Thursday, May 15 and May 28, 6 p.m.
Free with Museum admission
Join curator Lisa Hostetler for fresh and insightful tours of the exhibition.

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s far-reaching holdings include more than 20,000 works spanning antiquity to the present day. With a history dating back to 1888, the Museum houses a Collection with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, American decorative arts, and folk and self-taught art. The Museum includes the Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, named by Time magazine “Best Design of 2001.”


Images and Interviews Available upon Request.