LMAKprojects is pleased to present three series of work by Penelope Umbrico: Broken Sets (eBay), 2009- 2010, Zenith Replacement Parts, 2009, and Desk Trajectories (As Is), 2010. Mining the Internet for its idealized fictions of a technologically obsessed society, Umbrico creates taxonomies of images that point to a deflation or rupture in these fictions. Employing methods of appropriation, extraction, and accumulation, Umbrico extracts details from these images that belie an optimism usually associated with this content.
Broken Sets (eBay) are images of the screens cropped from pictures of broken LCD TVs Umbrico found on eBay.com, where they are sold for parts. The sellers turn on the TVs while photographing them so that potential buyers can see that the electronics behind the screens work. Umbrico became interested in the incidental abstract beauty of the screens because they are derived from the breakdown and failure of their own promising technology. By presenting these inadvertent abstract compositions as formal compositions in their own right, Umbrico collapses the obsolescence and breakdown of new technology with the aesthetic formalism of utopian Modernist abstraction.
Zenith Replacement Parts are photographs, also taken from eBay, of dusty cardboard boxes containing Zenith replacement parts. What intrigued Umbrico about these images was the seller’s belief in the photograph – that a picture of the box storing the part would lend more veracity to the objects inside, than to simply list the parts numbers. The reductiveness of the box form and its repetition is further emphasized by Umbrico’s gridding of them, turning them into a Judd-like eulogy.
A reoccurring theme in Umbrico’s work is the examination of how unattainable lifestyles are marketed, lusted after, and devoured by consumers. She highlights underlying cultural longings of a consumer subject allowing it to be replaced by a fictional, idealized, non-existent abstraction. This sentiment is poignantly illustrated in Desk Trajectories (As Is), 2010. If a new office desk promises the ultimate in organization and productivity, these same desks on craigslist and eBay, by virtue of the fact that they are “used” and out of commission, represent the exact opposite: a deflated and empty sign of productivity. No longer useful, and taking up too much space, these desks have been subsumed to an economy of re-appropriation, value deflation, and physical degradation.
The term As Is indicates a good bargain with perhaps some flaw, but taken here as an ontological statement, As Is points to a sort of existential anxiety: its reason for being is hinged on its potential for facilitating productivity, and its form is a testament to ideologies of a clean, elegant modernist aesthetic. In these pictures, all efficiency, productivity and elegance is in question.
Penelope Umbrico has had numerous solo exhibitions, including International Center of Photography, NY; Julie Saul Gallery, NY; Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston; P|M Gallery, Toronto; and her work has been included in group shows at the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane Australia; Bard College, NY; Massachusetts College of Art, Boston; Art in General, NY; Gallery 44, Toronto; Dazibao, Montreal; Ansel Adams Center for Photography, CA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA. Umbrico’s work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; International Center of Photography; Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. She is the recipient of an Anonymous Was A Woman Award; New York Foundation for the Arts, Artists Fellowship; a New York Foundation for the Arts, Catalogue Project Grant; an Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship Grant; and a Harvestworks Scholar Fellowship.