Thursday, October 22, 2009

Brian Ulrich goes dark

Brian Ulrich is a recent recipent of a Guggenheim grant for photography. As of this writing he has several recent images up at the Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco, where I caught up with them yesterday. Ulrich is known for observing popular culture at the consumer level, having photographed both people and the environments in which they shop. Brian Ulrich's previous exhibition at Koch contained two memorable images, one outside a grocery dairy case in which milk had been spilled, and another that showed a window sign purporting to show that day's homeland security threat level, but which shows only the sky beyond. Cheerfulness and humor are never far from view.

In the recent body of work, Dark Stores, Ulrich, for the most part, goes outside of the shopping environment to feature the boxy container where modern consumers do their consuming, or in this case--used to consume--since all are now failed businesses. Stores come and go all the time, but these pictures seemed timed for the current economic environment. The photographs are large and lush with subject matter that suggests an artist's purpose rather than a documentarian one, but ultimately we're left with desolate architecture and any echos of the absent shopper are long gone. Remembering Ulrich's earlier pictures one can't imagine not wanting to return to happier times.

Ulrich's strength is in not beating around the bush. His photographs are accessible in a way that much large scale contemporary color work isn't. The viewer feels that they know what point is being made while at the same time is fully entertained pouring over the minute detail and his effective use of color.

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