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Louisiana Museum of Modern Art opens 'Lauren Greenfield: Generation Wealth'
Lauren Greenfield, Ilona at home with her daughter, Michelle, 4, Moscow, 2012. Ilona’s sweater was produced for her in a custom color by her friend Andrey Artyomov, whose Walk of Shame fashion line is popular among the wives of oligarks. @ Lauren Greenfield.

HUMLEBÆK.- Louisiana Museum of Modern Art has a longstanding tradition of examining the world through the documentary genre. In Generation Wealth, the American photographer Lauren Greenfield takes an eye-opening look back at 25 years of consumer culture that, in her view, changed the world, adding naked materialism, a cult of celebrity and undisguised narcissism.

An incomparable document of decades of unbridled consumer culture, Generation Wealth takes us along as witnesses to the rampages of financial flows around the world – from Iceland, Dubai and Ireland to Russia and, of course, God’s own country, the USA. In more than 200 images, films and interviews, the exhibition presents moving and harrowing but never less than fascinating experiences – cultural history, anthropology and macroeconomics masterfully rolled into one by the artist Lauren Greenfield (b. 1966).

Working with documentary tools – images and interviews – Greenfield presents us with the visual culture of an age of unprecedented consumerism. Early on, Greenfield was concerned with the commercial mechanisms operating around teens at the moment that they come out as consumers – how body culture, youth, sexuality and the trappings of wealth have become the true social currency. While this may not be news to sociologists or economists, Greenfield lays the patterns bare for everyone to see, and the result is nothing less than a visual shellshock.

“I shop, therefore I am” aptly describes the logic and identity-dependence foisted by consumer culture on people around the world, a dependence that is literally harmful to the human mind and body. Launching the project in her hometown of Los Angeles, Greenfield does not limit herself to depicting the winners.

In a new Louisiana Channel production, Greenfield discusses the background of the exhibition and her documentary film Generation Wealth. Today, a couple of years after the project was completed, in 2017, the artist says, “I think what is in my pictures is not something that can be marginalized, especially in the time of Trump. As much as we want to say ‘This is not us,’ this is holding a mirror.”

One of the great qualities of Greenfield’s work, from her start in the early 1990s to the present day, is her ability to get close to the people she documents and seeks to understand. Hers is not the cool, detached gaze of an outsider. As the artist puts it, Generation Wealth is her search for what happened to the American dream. She finds answers around the globe.

In the exhibition
Fast Forward, the exhibition’s first theme, is displayed in the museum’s East Wing and looks at Los Angeles youth culture, where money is the be-all and end-all. From there, it is a natural segue into I Shop Therefore I Am. Consumer culture devours everything and everybody. Those who can afford it shop more. Those who can’t shop anyway or they simulate wealth, often with fatal consequences.

Hollywood’s Cult of Celebrity has spread to all aspects of society. It is about knowing celebrities and, in turn, becoming a celebrity yourself. Celebrity is a requirement for social mobility, beginning in childhood. Princess Brand shows children as stars, marketed like pedigree dogs or pop idols. In seemingly inevitable extension follows the section on Sexual Capital and New Aging. Body and money merge. Staying rich on that elixir takes constant investment. Up close and unsparing, the images often show more than we care to see. But getting off the socioeconomic hamster wheel is not easy. The losers, those who are exploited every which way to Sunday, appear in Make It Rain, where money, sex and degradation are the first things we see.

In the long, curving gallery in the East Wing, Greenfield ramps up the themes of growth and decline, naturally making us ponder how the fall of Rome must have played out in roughly similar ways. The Legacy of Gordon Gekko is about capitalist overdrive, overheating and collapse. Not only the speculators but everyone in the world was affected when the bubble burst. Globally framing the story of personal success, Dream Home shows us the New Oligarchy in Russia and the Bling Dynasty in China. Old revolutions are consumed and replaced by new ones.

Queen of Versailles, which is also the title of the artist’s 2012 documentary, shows the rise and fall of what was supposed to have been America’s largest private mansion, dwarfing even the White House in Washington. Time-share king David Siegel’s ambitions may have burst, but today another real-estate tycoon is president of the United States.

Louisiana’s exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Annenberg Space for Photography and Lauren Greenfield.

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