Our third solo exhibition with Brian Ulrich is the culmination of his decade-long photographic investigation of American consumerism. Previous exhibitions at the gallery have presented three common phases in the Copia cycle pervasive in his overall oeuvre: Copia (2002-06) examines the complex relationship between consumers and the industries that seek their consumption, while Thrift (2005-07) focuses on the trickle down of the goods. His most recent work, Dark Stores (2008-11) looks at the empty malls and big box stores which have gone belly up during recent years. “The work is a sustained exploration and critique of the rabid half-life of appetitive consumption,” writes Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, “of its scale, its apparent inevitability, its wastefulness and its cynicism” (‘Appetite for Consumption: Brian Ulrich’s Copia,’ http://thegreatleapsideways.com).
This show takes a final look back at the last decade and puts America’s retail apparatus in a post-war, historical context. Ulrich will juxtapose his work with various artifacts from an earlier time- selections from a large archive that Ulrich has amassed concurrently with his photographic project. Objects include a restored vintage sign in optimistic italics announcing Fast Food, well before the phrase became a dirty word and America became “supersized.” Furthermore, pre-barcode labels from forgotten products evoke the optimism of Pop and Warhol, ultimately prompting feelings of historic artifacts. In this context, we realize that in Copia, Ulrich has created a record that will soon serve as an historic document, as powerfully suggestive as a Walker Evans or FSA photograph.
This exhibition coincides with a major monograph, Is This Place Great or What, published by Aperture Foundation (with an essay by Juliet B. Schorr and 95 plates). In addition, a survey exhibition organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art will travel to the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University and the North Carolina Museum of Art over the next two years. Ulrich received a Guggenheim fellowship to support Copia in 2009. He is a tenure-track professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Ulrich’s work is included in numerous public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art.
The Aperture Foundation and the Julie Saul Gallery will present a conversation, reception and book signing with Brian Ulrich and Penelope Umbrico on April 17, 6:30pm at the Julie Saul Gallery.