Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is pleased to present Joan Didion: What She Means, opening July 13, 2023.
Featuring more than 200 works by approximately 50 artists, the exhibition is a portrait of an artist by other artists as told through their shared language, as well as the visual arts which italicize Didion’s journey as an eyewitness and pioneer of her time.
Joan Didion: What She Means is organized by writer, curator, and critically acclaimed New Yorker contributor Hilton Als.
I am excited for the opportunity to share this exhibition with the Miami community. Joan Didion is an artist who had deep ties to the city, as well as cultures in and around the area. She was a Californian by birth and temperament, but she traveled widely throughout America; she was interested in and committed to recording what made us different and similar in a shared nation.
What She Means couples the archival with the conceptual together with works by Betye Saar, Vija Celmins, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Maren Hassinger, Silke Otto-Knapp, John Koch, Pat Steir, and many others, placed alongside works and memorabilia from numerous films for which Didion authored screenplays. Following a winding chronology, the exhibition traces Didion’s life and the regions she called home: Holy Water: Sacramento, Berkeley (1934–1956); Goodbye to All That: New York (1956–1963); The White Album: California, Hawai‘i (1964–1988); and the final chapter, Sentimental Journeys: New York, Miami, San Salvador (1988–2021).
Joan Didion is one of the most important writers of our time, and we are thrilled to present this exhibition to our visitors. Through her writing, Didion has shaped the way we think about ourselves and our society. Her work is as relevant today as it was when she first began writing, and we are excited to offer our visitors the opportunity to explore her life and work in depth.
(Franklin Sirmans, PAMM Director)
Joan Didion: What She Means was organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and curated by independent curator Hilton Als, with Connie Butler, Chief Curator, Hammer Museum, and Ikechúkwú Onyewuenyi, Hammer Curatorial Assistant. The Pérez Art Museum Miami presentation was organized by Maritza Lacayo, Assistant Curator, with Franklin Sirmans, Director. The presentation of Joan Didion: What She Means at the Hammer Museum was made possible by lead funding from Cindy Miscikowski. Major support is provided by Allison Gorsuch Corrigan and Wendy Stark and the Walske Charitable Foundation. Generous funding is also provided by Agnes Gund, Bill Hair, Amara and Alexander Hastings, Maurice Marciano Family Foundation, and Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy, with additional support from Dana Delany, LLWW Foundation, Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein, and Lee Ramer. The exhibition is presented at PAMM with support from Patricia and William Kleh.
Joan Didion was born in Sacramento in 1934 and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1956. After graduation, Didion moved to New York and began working for Vogue, which led to her career as a journalist and writer. Didion published her first novel, Run River, in 1963. Didion’s other novels include Play It As It Lays (1970), A Book of Common Prayer (1977), Democracy (1984), and The Last Thing He Wanted (1996).
Didion’s first volume of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was published in 1968, and her second, The White Album, was published in 1979. Her nonfiction works include Salvador (1983), Miami (1987), After Henry (1992), Political Fictions (2001), Where I Was From (2003), We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live (2006), Blue Nights (2011), South and West (2017) and Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021).
Her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005. In 2005, Didion was awarded the American Academy of Arts & Letters Gold Medal in Belles Lettres and Criticism. In 2007, she was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. A portion of the National Book Foundation citation read: “An incisive observer of American politics and culture for more than forty-five years, Didion’s distinctive blend of spare, elegant prose and fierce intelligence has earned her books a place in the canon of American literature as well as the admiration of generations of writers and journalists.” In 2013, she was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama and the PEN Center USA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hilton Als became a staff writer at The New Yorker in 1994 and a theatre critic in 2002. He began contributing to the magazine in 1989, writing pieces for The Talk of the Town. He won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2017 for his New Yorker work.
Before coming to The New Yorker, Als was a staff writer for the Village Voice and an editor-at-large at Vibe. Als edited the catalogue for the 1994-95 Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art.” His first book, “The Women,” was published in 1996. His most recent book, “White Girls,” a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Lambda Literary Award in 2014, discusses various narratives of race and gender. In 1997, the New York Association of Black Journalists awarded Als first prize in both Magazine Critique/Review and Magazine Arts and Entertainment. He was awarded a Guggenheim for creative writing in 2000 and the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for 2002-03. In 2016, he received Lambda Literary’s Trustee Award for Excellence in Literature. In 2018, Als received the City College of New York’s Langston Hughes Medal.
In 2009, Als worked with the performer Justin Bond on “Cold Water,” an exhibition of paintings, drawings, and videos by performers, at La MaMa Gallery. In 2010, he co-curated “Self-Consciousness,” at the VeneKlasen/Werner gallery, in Berlin, and published “Justin Bond/Jackie Curtis.” In 2015, he collaborated with the artist Celia Paul to create “Desdemona for Celia by Hilton,” an exhibition for the Metropolitan Opera’s Gallery Met. “Alice Neel, Uptown,” which Als curated in 2017, was selected by three of Artforum’s critics as one of the ten best shows of the year. His accompanying book on the artist was also widely praised.
Als is a teaching professor at the University of California, Berkeley, an associate professor of writing at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, and has taught at Yale University, Columbia University, Wesleyan University, and Smith College. He lives in New York City.