Haggerty Museum spring 2014 exhibitions highlight materialism and consumer culture

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Haggerty Museum spring 2014 exhibitions highlight materialism and consumer culture
Brian Ulrich, Chicago, IL (Cell), 2003. Pigment print, 40 x 50 in., 2013.6.1. Museum purchase. Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University.

MILWAUKEE, WI.- The Haggerty Museum of Art partnered with The Chipstone Foundation to present four concurrent exhibitions united by a common theme: consumerism. In the galleries, viewers will encounter photography, contemporary art, Wisconsin contemporary craft, and historical decorative arts. Photographer Brian Ulrich documents a ten year trajectory of the American consumer psyche; the artists in Between Critique and Absorption challenge the economic structures that give rise to mass consumption; Aesthetic Afterlife offers symbolic solutions to the problem of overconsumption; and The Print Room explores the historic relationship between print culture and transfer-print ceramics in England and America. Together, these exhibitions provide a wide-ranging and thought-provoking exploration of consumer culture and its societal impact.

Brian Ulrich Copia—Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001–2011
This insightful, decade-long, three-phase investigation of the American consumer psyche traces a route from exuberant excess to the bleak architectural landscapes of closed malls and empty parking lots. For his first chapter, Retail, photographer Brian Ulrich traveled extensively across the United States to document shoppers in vast and ubiquitous enclosed malls and big-box stores. He relied on a hand-held camera with the viewfinder at waist level to create candid images of people engrossed in navigating an abundance of goods. Ulrich then turned his attention to thrift stores, which became a primary destination for a growing segment of the country’s population in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The Thrift chapter focuses on workers attempting to bring order to the mountains of donated, discarded, and unwanted consumer products. Lastly, in Dark Stores, Ghostboxes, and Dark Malls, Ulrich utilized a large-format view camera to produce richly detailed photographs that explore the lasting impact of the economic recession. This chapter contains haunting landscapes of the interiors and exteriors of abandoned buildings.

Ulrich’s nuanced treatment of his subject matter capitalizes on the believability of his medium to address the perils of consumption without oversimplification. By “Using this power of the photograph to depict a contemporary event in which we spend so little time scrutinizing,” Ulrich is able to reveal “the fabricated illusion of the consumer environment and our role within it,” a gesture that ultimately seeks to transform community perceptions of the role of consumption in American life.[i]

This exhibition and accompanying programs are sponsored in part by the Curtis L. Carter Art and Social Change Lecture Endowment Fund, the Friends of the Haggerty Exhibition and Programs Fund, and the Lillian Rojtman Berkman Endowment Fund. Brian Ulrich: Copia – Retail, Thrift and Dark Stores, 2001-2011 was organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. This exhibition was made possible by the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation.

[i] Brian Ulrich, excerpt from his Career Narrative submitted as part of his application for the Guggenheim Fellowship.

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