Major Photography Retrospective, “Larry Sultan: Here and Home,” Opens October 23

Posted on August 31st, 2015


Milwaukee, Wis. – The Milwaukee Art Museum presents Larry Sultan: Here and Home, the first retrospective of internationally acclaimed California photographer Larry Sultan (1946–2009). The exhibition, on view October 23, 2015– January 24, 2016, explores Sultan’s 35-year career, from his early conceptual and collaborative projects of the 1970s to his solo work that pushed the boundaries of documentary-style photography.

Milwaukee is the exhibition’s sole venue outside of California.

One of the most influential photographers of his generation, Larry Sultan consistently challenged photographic conventions, blurring the lines between fact and fiction in photography by incorporating found images, interviews, and staged scenes.

“Larry Sultan, as an artist and a mentor, helped shape contemporary photography and influenced a generation of artists,” said Lisa J. Sutcliffe, Milwaukee Art Museum curator of photography and media arts.  “His witty and poetic work questions the role of authorship and context in defining meaning in photography, fundamentally changing how we understand images and how we use them to tell our own stories.”

The themes of home and family resonate throughout his work, accompanied by an interest in the way images construct a narrative, create a façade, or express deep emotion. He frequently used photography of domestic life and suburban settings—including his parents own home movies—to express reality, fantasy, longing, and displacement.

Six major bodies of work make up this presentation: Evidence (1975–1977) with fellow photographer Mike Mandel; Swimmers (1978–82); Pictures from Home (1983–92); Editorial (1993–2009); The Valley (1997–2003); and Homeland (2006–9).  Additionally, Oranges on Fire (1975), a historically important collaboration with Mandel, will be restaged on billboards around Milwaukee.  In total, Larry Sultan: Here and Home features more than 200 photographs, billboards, a film, and “Study Hall,” a unique interactive gallery space exploring Sultan’s artistic process and teaching methods.

Larry Sultan: Here and Home was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Presenting sponsors in Milwaukee are Madeleine and David Lubar.

Exhibition Highlights

Evidence (1977): Referred to by The New York Times as a “watershed in the history of art photography,” Evidence redefined photography as a conceptual art by blurring the lines between appropriation and authorship, and between context and meaning.  Sultan first began looking critically at art world conventions with fellow photographer Mike Mandel in the 1970’s and 80’s. Together, they embraced alternative and populist forms, such as billboards, self-published books, found photography, newswires, and advertisements.  For Evidence, the two artists sifted through more than 15,000 institutional archival photographs, appropriating them to create new narratives about post-war America.

Oranges on Fire (1975): Billboards around Milwaukee’s metro area will be taken over in late October by recreations of Sultan and Mandel’s enigmatic billboard Oranges on Fire,  one of a series of anonymous billboards pairing mysterious images with nonsensical text designed to mimic the language of advertising without selling a product.  Initially displayed on ten billboards in the Bay Area, Santa Cruz and Syracuse, New York in 1975, the whimsical yet absurd image is one of Sultan and Mandel’s most iconic public artworks.

Pictures from Home (1983–92):  Sultan’s most personal series, Pictures from Home, transformed the genre by blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction in photography. Over nearly a decade, Sultan photographed his own mother and father at home, carefully staging scenarios that appeared to be a documentary record of actual events. He also collected stills from old home movies, found family photos and recorded conversations with his parents to create a narrative that extended conventions of documentary photography. The final product reflects the artist’s fascination with identity, storytelling, and the construction of the American dream through text and image.

The Valley (1997–2003): In 1998, Sultan was commissioned by Maxim magazine to photograph a day in the life of a porn star. He found himself in the San Fernando Valley, his hometown. In creating The Valley, the artist was captivated by the theme of domesticity in adult films, as homes were readily rented for two or three days for a film shoot. The images capture camera equipment, crew, and actors between takes napping, eating, joking, and relaxing—appearing more as an alternate family, surrounded by the family photos and décor of the homes’ owners.

Homeland (2006–2009): Homeland is Sultan’s final series, made in the coastal San Francisco Bay area near the artist’s home. To create the pictures, Sultan hired migrant day laborers as actors and posed them in familial tableaus—resting under a tree, watching batting practice, taking dishes to a potluck—set in landscapes on the far edges of suburbia. The series explores those living in limbo, in this case both socially and geographically, and forces viewers to consider the definitions of home and the collective longing to create it.

About Larry Sultan

A lifelong educator, Sultan taught photography for 10 years at the San Francisco Art Institute (1978–88) and for 20 years at the California College of the Arts (1989–2009), where he served as a Distinguished Professor of Photography. His work is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

About the Milwaukee Art Museum
Prominently situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee Art Museum campus welcomes over 400,000 visitors annually. The Museum was founded over 125 years ago and is the largest and most significant art museum in Wisconsin. It houses a rich collection of over 30,000 works, with strengths in 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary art, and American decorative arts. It is the world’s leading repository for work by untrained creators and has one of the largest collections of works by Georgia O’Keeffe. The Museum’s celebrated Santiago Calatrava–designed Quadracci Pavilion, completed in 2001, showcases both Museum-produced and traveling feature exhibitions.

Restore. Reinstall. Reimagine.
In fall 2014, the Museum began an ambitious project to renovate its two oldest buildings, the Eero Saarinen–designed War Memorial Center (1957) and the David Kahler–designed addition (1975), which house the Museum’s Collection Galleries. Increased gallery space, including an entire floor dedicated to photography and new media, an improved gallery layout, and a new lakeside entrance are among the improvements planned. The collections will reopen November 24, 2015. The Museum is open throughout construction, with a vibrant schedule of exciting exhibitions, educational offerings, and special programs in the Quadracci Pavilion. For more information, visit mam.org




Media preview: Wednesday, October 21, tours at 10 A.M and 1 P.M.; R.S.V.P to communications@mam.org

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