Monday, June 8, 2009

Brian Ulrich, Thrift and Dark Stores @Saul

JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 color prints, hung in the entry and main gallery space. 9 of the images are chromogenic prints from the Thrift series, 30x40 or reverse, taken in 2005-2006 and printed in editions of 5, with white frames and no mats. The other 11 works are pigmented ink prints from the Dark Stores series, all taken in 2008; 10 of these have been printed 11x14 in editions of 15 and framed in dark wood frames with no mat, the other single image has been printed larger, 50x40 in an edition of 7. All of the images in this series come in both sizes. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: In contrast to the plethora of safe, self contained and mildly conceptual projects we see throughout contemporary photography today, Brian Ulrich has taken on a monster of a challenge - making sense of the quintessential American reality of all-encompassing consumerism. This vast subject has already taken him in several different directions (the sales floor at big box stores, the back room at big box stores, the people of these environments) and this small show of new work is evidence that the topic has many more intriguing facets to be explored.
The images from Thrift are primarily interiors, stuffed full with overstocked, passed down or liquidation items, the end of the line dumping ground for goods with no home. Ulrich has uncovered a subculture of sifting here, of workers and shoppers alike digging through piles and piles of "bargain" merchandise in down at the heels warehouses. These works depict the opposite of the shiny brand new atmosphere of most retail stores, and open up trickier questions about underlying social structures and classes.
The works from Dark Stores are primarily nighttime exteriors, gloomy architectural shots of boarded up car dealerships and restaurants, and abandoned big box stores with for rent signs and painted over non-logos. The deserted malls and empty parking lots have an unsettling sameness, quiet surrender in town after town. Given our current economic environment, echoes of these images can be found in every decent sized commercial area in America.

Ulrich's approach seems to borrow in equal parts from Lewis Baltz, Paul Graham, and Martin Parr: some deadpan frontal architectural pictures with an undertone of questionable sustainability, some more social documentary type images that ask deeper questions about the entire system and its effects on the people involved, and some works that use a subtle dose of carefully applied humor and irony to get at many of these same concerns. Any one of these approaches as applied to the subject might end up being too reductive; mixing the three together has brought forth a more complicated and multi-dimensional picture of the reality.
It doesn't take a genius to see that "buy more stuff" wasn't a particularly durable solution to all of America's woes, and emptiness that is now being left behind raises even more doubts about consumption as any kind of answer. And while there will clearly be excellent stand alone images that will come out of Ulrich's many intertwined projects, my guess is that these works will ultimately work best in book form, where careful sequencing of many more images will help to tell a much more nuanced and detailed story.

Collector's POV: The prints from the Thrift series are priced at $4000, while the Dark Stores works are priced at either $6500 or $1000 depending on size. Ulrich's work has not yet entered the secondary markets in any meaningful way, so collectors interested in following up will need to contact the retail galleries that represent his work. For our particular collection, the architectural exteriors from Dark Stores would be the best fit, as they would help continue a narrative line that runs through our entire genre of city/industrial images.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • 2009 Guggenheim fellowship (here)
  • Interviews: Chicagoist (here), Conscientious (here)
  • Video interview (here)
Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

No comments: