Last Saturday saw the opening of the exhibition Zoe Strauss: Ten Years at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a mid-career retrospective of the acclaimed photographer’s work. Today we look at this exhibition, the life and work of this influential photographer, and Yale’s exhibition catalogue which accompanies the show.
Zoe Strauss (b. 1970) is something of a celebrity in her native Philadelphia. With little formal training as a photographer or artist (she took only one photography course at a community college as a teenager) her beautiful, often stark photographs have received international acclaim from the artistic community, offering a poignant, troubling portrait of contemporary America.
The Philadelphia-born Strauss (whose ambition is ‘to create an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life’) first came to public attention when she founded the Philadelphia Public Art Project in 1995, a one-woman project aimed at giving the people of Philadelphia access to art by exhibiting in non-traditional venues. Five years later, she began using photography to represent her chosen subjects, which primarily consist of disenfranchised working class people and places.
In Philadelphia Strauss is probably most famous for her show I-95, in which she hosted annual day-long exhibitions of her photographs under an elevated section of the interstate highway 95 (I-95). Mounting her prints on the columns beneath the interstate (roughly the size of a football pitch), Strauss provided visitors with a map keyed to a list of photograph titles. Prints of the exhibited images were available for sale for five dollars, with Strauss stationed at a nearby table to sign them. These installations were celebrated for animating the site with art, commerce and social interaction, transforming it into a vibrant public space.
Zoe Strauss: Ten Years at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (14 January – 22 April 2012) presents around one hundred and fifty of Strauss’s photographs, along with slideshows displaying more of her imagery, and installations on billboards throughout Philadelphia that extend the exhibition beyond the museum (see Strauss’s Billboard Project website). The show will examine how, for Strauss, the opposite settings of the abandoned urban zone under I-95 and the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art complement each other.
Generously illustrated, the exhibition catalogue that accompanies the show publishes nearly 200 photographs (135 of them for the first time) along with images that document her I-95 exhibitions. With critical essays by Peter Barberie (Brodsky Curator of Photographs at the Alfred Stieglitz Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and photography historian Sally Stein (professor emeritus at the University of California, Irvine), plus a bibliography and chronology, this definitive publication is the first to be produced about this important young artist.
Zoe Strauss: Ten Years is available now from Yale University Press.
Take a look at more photography titles from Yale
Visit the official Philadelphia Museum of Art website.