Brian Ulrich: Close Out—Retail Relics and Ephemera

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VCU Professor creates installation from his personal archive

From January 18 to March 10, 2013, VCUarts Anderson Gallery will present Close Out: Retail Relics and            Ephemera, an exhibition of objects and images culled from photographer Brian Ulrich’s vast personal archive of retail artifacts. It appears on the gallery’s first floor in conjunction with Copia—Retail,Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001-11, an exhibition of Ulrich’s decade-long examination of the American consumer psyche organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Both exhibitions will open with a public reception on Friday evening, January 18, from 5 to 7 pm.

Although Ulrich included several items from his collection with his own photographs in his solo show at Julie Saul Gallery last spring, this presentation offers the first in-depth look at his collecting activities relative to his overall artistic practice. “It also extends the narrative arc of his Copia project by making clear that what he began to document in 2001 has a much longer history,” notes Gallery Director Ashley Kistler. A limited-edition artist book will accompany the exhibition.

The compulsion to collect physical things, Urich observes, grew out of the act of making photographs. “After spending countless hours trying to photograph a sign on a long- abandoned mall, I concluded that while the 8×10 camera really does bring about dramatic transformations, some subjects test its limits. It simply seemed to make more sense to move the sign itself,” he continues,“which set in motion a succinct attention to the artifact.” Pictured at left, an electric sign rescued from the now-demolished Belz Factory Outlet Mall outside of Dallas will illuminate the gallery’s facade.

Among other items salvaged by Ulrich and featured in Close Out are images from an extensive newspaper cache of negatives documenting the Great Prosperity, the post- World War II period of unprecedented prosperity for America’s middle class. “I consider these images a prequel to my own work,” he says. Ulrich reedits, reprints, and assembles this found material to underscore a historical narrative that reflects the era’s burgeoning investment and faith in a consumer-driven culture. Elsewhere in the exhibition, a large group of Polaroids of shoplifters and related material scavenged from the demolition of Richmond’s Cloverleaf Mall evokes one consequence as income disparities climbed to new levels during the 1980s and 90s.

Close Out also includes an installation of   aluminum door pulls from long forgotten retailer Montgomery Ward; 1970s price label sheets from the former Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois; architect’s renderings and plans; and a myriad of other paper ephemera. A tape machine manufactured by Customusic, one of Muzak’s competitors, will provide the exhibition’s musical backdrop.

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 reside in such major museum collections as the Art Institute of Chicago, Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. In 2007, he was named one of the year’s 30 Emerging Photographers by Photo District News, and was a critic’s pick by Richard Woodward in ARTnews. In 2009, he received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. Ulrich currently lives in Richmond, where he is Assistant Professor in the Department of Photography and Film at the VCU School of the Arts.

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