Photographer’s exploration of consumer culture opens January 18
RICHMOND – From January 18 to March 10, 2013, the Anderson Gallery of the VCU School of the Arts will present Copia—Retail,Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001-11, the first major museum exhibition of photographer Brian Ulrich’s decade-long examination of the American consumer psyche. From the Latin word for “plenty,” the artist’s Copia series includes nearly 60 photographs that explore the economic, cultural, and political implications of commercialism and American consumer culture.“We are so pleased to feature this powerful body of work by Brian,who joined theVCUarts faculty last year and is quickly building an impressive international reputation,” says Gallery Director Ashley Kistler.
The exhibition was organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and made possible by the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation. It will also travel to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh (September 29, 2013–January 5, 2014) and to Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee next spring.
Works in the exhibition, curated by Tom Hinson, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s curator emeritus, are divided into three parts: Retail,Thrift, and Dark Stores. For the images included in the Retail phase (2001-06), Ulrich traveled extensively throughout the United States. He initially used a hand-held camera with the viewfinder at waist level, which allowed him to remain anonymous while docu- menting shoppers engrossed in navigating the abundance of goods found in vast enclosed malls and big-box stores. The second phase, Thrift (2005-08), focuses on thrift stores, the collecting places for discarded and unwanted consumer products, and its workers, as they attempt to bring order to the enormous amounts of donated, discarded, and unwanted consumer products.The concluding group, Dark Stores (2008-11), features images in which Ulrich explores the impact of the 2008 financial crisis with haunting architectural landscapes of abandoned buildings and empty parking lots that have become commonplace in towns across America.
“I had to see if people were indeed patriotic shopping in response to the events on September 11,” says Ulrich, referring to the beginning of his decade-long investigation. “Not only was it clear that this was the case, but standing in a big-box store or shopping mall, I could see the entire trajectory of the 20th-century economy and ideology playing out in the excess of goods and overwhelmed stares of the shoppers.Ten years later, I hope that these photographs serve as a marker with which we can learn about our behaviors, habits, comforts, and purpose.” [continued]
The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue Is This Place Great or What, which includes the entire Copia series, as well as a statement from Ulrich and an essay by Juliet B. Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, entitled Shopapalooza:The Boom and Bust of the Retail Economy. Co-published by the Aperture Foundation, the book is available from the Anderson Gallery for $40.00.
In conjunction with Copia, the Anderson Gallery has organized Close Out: Retail Relics and Ephemera, the first exhibition to present objects and images from Ulrich’s vast personal archive of retail artifacts. This presentation provides a wider historical context for the artist’s own photographs and is accompanied by a limited-edition artist book. Both exhibitions will open with a public reception on Friday evening, January 18, from 5 to 7 pm.
About the Artist
Born in 1971 in Northport, New York, Brian Ulrich received his BFA in photography from the University of Akron and his MFA in photography from Columbia College, Chicago. Since finishing his graduate studies in 2004, he has had solo exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; Julie Saul Gallery, New York; and Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco. His work has also been included in group exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Galerie f5.6, Munich; Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, Illinois;Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, among many other venues.
Ulrich’s photographs portraying contemporary consumer culture reside in such major museum collections as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. In 2007, he was named one of the year’s 30 Emerging Photographers by Photo District News and a critic’s pick by Richard Woodward in ARTnews. In 2009, he received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. His work has been recently featured in the New York Times Magazine; Orion Magazine; Vice Magazine; Mother Jones; Chicago Tribune; Artforum; Harper’s Magazine; Leica World; Yvi Magazine, and as a frequent contributor to the magazine Adbusters. Ulrich currently lives in Richmond, where he is Assistant Professor in the Department of Photography and Film at the VCU School of the Arts.
Brian Ulrich, Pep Boys 3, 2009; ultrachrome inkjet print, 20 x 24 inches. Collection of Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell. Photograph courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art.