Travelogue

May 29 – August 1, 2009

Organized for the Anderson Gallery by Ashley Kistler and Michael Lease.

Martin Parr: Small World and Autoportraits

Michelle Van Parys: The Way Out West

Olaf Breuning: Home 2

From the permanent collection:

Theresa Pollak: On Location

Martin Parr: Small World and Autoportraits

Often called the most important British photographer working today, Martin Parr is well known for his highly saturated color images that tackle themes of mass consumerism and tourism with wit and satire. Parr’s work first came to wider attention in the mid-1980s with the then-controversial series The Last Resort, a searing portrait of the decrepit seaside town of New Brighton and its working-class vacationers during the Thatcher era. Since then, he has traveled the world- frequently on assignment for the photo agency Magnum- photographing tourists (and having himself photographed) in the widest array of locations imaginable. “I just choose what I think are the right things to look at in light of what’s happening in the world today,” Parr comments, “whether it’s the food we eat, the shops we go to, or the tourist locations we visit”

This exhibition will feature images from Small World and Autoportraits, along with selections from The Last Resort, Think of England, and Mexico. Originally published in book form in 1995 and recently reissued with additional material, the pictures of Small World offer an engrossing excursion to mostly familiar tourist spots made newly strange and compelling when viewed from Parr’s idiosyncratic perspective. Tourism is the biggest industry in the world,” he notes. “You can’t ignore it. I like to explore the problem with it, which is the difference between the myth and the reality of the place.” Parr continues to address this subject in his series Autoportraits initiated in the 1990s when he began having his own picture taken by a local studio or street photographer in whatever location he happened to be working. This hilarious compilation of portraits, in which Parr as tourist maintains a deadpan demeanor under the goofiest of circumstances, provocatively questions the meaning of cultural difference in an ever-shrinking and increasingly well-traveled world.

Born in 1952 in Epsom, Surrey, UK, Martin Parr studied photography from 1970 to 1973, taking on various teaching assignments through the early 1990s. He has published over forty books and exhibited his work in numerous exhibitions around the world. In 2002, his first retrospective premiered at the Barbican Art Gallery and National Media Museum in London and then toured Europe for the next five years. Parrworld, a major exhibition that includes his collections of various objects, postcards, and photo books, as well as his own photographs, opened last year at the Haus de Kunst in Munich and is currently traveling. Among many other activities, Parr was the artistic director of the 2004 Rencontres d’Arles, the longest running and most prestigious photographic festival in the world, and guest curator of the 2008 New York Photo Festival.

Special thanks to the Janet Borden Gallery for its assistance with this project.

Michelle Van Parys: The Way Out West

Over the last two decades, traveling west from her home in Charleston, South Carolina, Michelle Van Parys has trained her camera on the terrain of the American Southwest and its changing identity. “Specifically,” Van Parys notes, “I seek to juxtapose nineteenth-century notions of the sublime landscape with the ways in which we live on the land today, thereby drawing attention to our uneasy alliance with the natural world.” In the 50 toned gelatin-silver prints making up this photographic journey through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and California, she suggests a range of possibilities for these interactions, from humorous and ironic to dangerous and fatalistic. “The final result is a poignant commentary not only on the desert landscapes to be found ‘out west,'” photographic historian Geoffrey Batchen writes in his catalogue essay, “but also on the act of seeing the American West.”

Michelle Van Parys is Professor in the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, where she has taught since 1989. She received her BFA (1982) from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, and her MFA (1986) in Photography from VCU. Her work has been exhibition internationally and is held in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the High Museum of Art.

Olaf Breuning: Home 2

Olaf Breuning’s latest video, Home 2– a hit at the 2008 Whitney Biennial- addresses themes of dislocation and cultural identity. The narrator of this over-the-top spoof, played by actor Brian Kerstetter, joins a tourist group traveling through Papua New Guinea. As Stacey Goergen wrote in the Biennial catalogue: He stumbles his way through assorted villages and tribes, variously charming or insulting his fellow tourists and the ‘natives’ he encounters. In this foreign environment, his mind is transported to locations of previous travel or fantasy as he sifts through notions of identity and belonging. Home is a universal, but also a specific, construct. “Each has a home they want to go to, like me,” the narrator opines as his journey comes to an end. The viewer is left with the distinct notion that neither the traveler nor the world he has left is enriched by the experience. Contextualizing the helplessness of today’s global citizen, Breuning examines a basic human quest for commonality in an increasingly global, but ever more fragmented, world.

Born in 1970 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, Olaf Breuning lives and works in New York City. He also creates photographs, sculptures, and installations that draw heavily from popular culture. Since 1997, he has participated in numerous exhibitions internationally, including a solo show at Metro Pictures in New York last fall.

Theresa Pollak: On Location

Theresa Pollak (1899-2002), a founder of the VCU School of the Arts, often made sketches and studies depicting the places she visited and the people she encountered. The drawings in this exhibition, selected from the gallery’s permanent collection, document Pollak‘s keen interest in the world around her. From portraits of bus passengers and landscapes from airplane windows to train stations and well-known museums, she captured her observations and experiences on paper, sometimes with notations for future paintings. Drawn with a sense of immediacy of time and place, these works are a candid account of one tourist and traveler.

The Anderson Gallery gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Corporate and Museum Frame, Richmond.