Between the economic recession of 4+ years ago and its slow-crawling "recovery", to the petulant political squawking and high rhetoric and sabotaging stalemate that now seem to be the par for Congressional behavior, to the bitter "culture wars" being waged from the fringes, and to the growing divide between rich and poor (and dimming prospects for the upward aspirations of the poor, working, and middle classes), life in these United States right now is, for many people, defined by an unsettling anxiety and nagging uncertainty about the future. Indeed, the fundamental notion of the "American Dream" seems to have been greatly called into question (though perhaps in hindsight we might look back and feel like this was a healthy and necessary examination to have undergone).
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Richmond, CA, 2008
from the series 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
© Michael MergenOne gets the sense that America is at or near the brink of some tectonic transformations in its core -- which for some is a welcome evolution, while others who prefer a more nostalgic or rose-colored American idealism find the increasingly diverse and multi-faceted aspects of the country's emergent identity to be quite troublesome.
Any combination of these factors has likely contributed to the rise of new political movements such as Occupy and the Tea Party, and yet also what we might surmise as well, in taking a longer view, is that the notion of a contemporary American identity seems fragmented and elusive, somewhat schizophrenic perhaps, or in the very least, difficult to define with any concrete certainty.
The new exhibition Peripheral Views: States of America, opening Friday at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, examines that notion by presenting a group of works that encapsulate the challenges in describing and illustrating contemporary America. Often seen thru the commonplace prisms of television, the Internet, advertising, or government, each artist brings their own approach to issues such as class, race, power, and social justice.
from the series Empire
© Martin Hyers and William MebaneAnd just as we've come to understand modern America as a divided land, so too do we see fragmentation in these images and their attempts to visualize the complexities of the American Dream today -- which ultimately provokes interesting questions about the authoritative and representational limitations of photography. Or, as summarized in MoCP's exhibition statement:
"The multiplicity of creators and imagery in this exhibition reflect that the contemporary American experience is larger than any single person or community. While photographs have the power to influence social and political change, traditional documentary practice seems unable to capture the turbulent spirit of a nation in the midst of divisive politics and economic recession. The work in this exhibition underscores the cultural and economic divides and the anxieties that have come to dominate American politics, commerce, and home life."Peripheral Views: States of America includes photographs by Doug Rickard, Michael Mergen, Martin Hyers & William Mebane, Harry Shearer, Object Orange, Liz Magic Laser, Nicolas Krebs & Taiyo Onorato, Veronica Corzo-Duchardt, and Adam Broomberg & Olivier Chanarin.
Peripheral Views: States of America
13 July - 30 September 2012
Museum of Contemporary Photography
600 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
Also opening on Friday nite in Chicago is the group show Installed, at Catherine Edelman Gallery, featuring works by Keliy Anderson-Staley, John Cyr, Elizabeth Ernst, Myra Greene, and Gregory Scott.
Untitled [Ref. #13] (2007)
from the series Character Recognition
© Myra GreeneAs its title might imply, this exhibition is focused on the power of presentation, particularly in terms of an artist's grouping of works structured together in a series or on a wall -- or perhaps even from the gallery's / curator's experience of how pieces from different artists can play off each other in an exhibition space.
For example, in Installed we see Greene's wet collodion images of her body detailed as fragments of racial classification (and strongly evoking the period of American history when slavery and colonialism reigned) and presented in 21 small prints that would almost feel like an index; similarly, compare with Anderson-Staley's tintype portraits (from the series [Hyphen]-Americans illustrating the multitude of cultures and identities that comprise the American "melting pot") grouped along a 21-foot wall to create dialogue amongst the images; and contrast with Cyr's use of the multiples in his gridded display of minimalistic images of developer trays from well-known photographers throughout history as evidence or fading remnants of the traditional silver gelatin printing process.
Richard Misrach's Developer Tray (2011)
from the series Developer Trays
© John Cyr
works by Keliy Anderson-Staley, John Cyr, Elizabeth Ernst, Myra Greene, and Gregory Scott
opening Friday 13 July, 5-8pm
Catherine Edelman Gallery
300 W. Superior St., Chicago