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So the Story Goes

September 16 - December 3, 2006


The Art Institute of Chicago will showcase nearly 200 works by five of the best contemporary photographers -- Tina Barney, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, and Larry Sultan -- in one of the largest photography exhibitions mounted by the museum.  So the Story Goes, on view at the museum's Regenstein Hall September 16 - December 3, 2006, explores how this select group of artists has used their own lives as the inspiration for and subject matter of their work during the past three decades.  The works on view here are thus highly personal, shifting, and intriguing visions of the lives of these five photographers-from Tina Barney's orchestrated depictions of her friends and family in affluent New England settings to Nan Goldin's unabashed portrayal of intimate, and often brutally honest, moments.  Sally Mann turns her attention on to her children and their surroundings, and Larry Sultan considers his parents' relationship. Finally, Philip-Lorca diCorcia offers up his "storybook life" in photographs that intrigue with their nonlinear sequence and narrative.

So the Story Goes also celebrates recent important acquisitions made by the Department of Photography at the Art Institute: 31 promised gifts of Sultan images to the Photography Department, and the first Sultan purchase to enter the collection, Mom Posing for Me (1984); the first Barney to enter the collection, Jill and Polly in the Bathroom (1987); and selections from Mann's landmark Immediate Family series (1985-1992).  More new acquisitions in conjunction with this exhibition to be announced late summer.

So the Story Goes begins with the works of Tina Barney (American, b. 1945).  " I began photographing what I knew," she said, and for much of the 1980s and 1990s, she has consistently captured images of her family and friends in their East Coast affluent surroundings.  Employing a large-format view camera enables Barney to create highly detailed images that retain their focus and richness even when made into 4-by-5-foot prints.  Nearly a decade before the super-sized photographs of artists such as Andreas Gursky or Thomas Struth, Barney presented color work on a scale that rivals most 20th-century paintings.

(above: Tina Barney (American, born 1945). Jill and Polly in the Bathroom , 1987. Chromogenic color print; 121.9 x 152.4 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, restricted gift of the Auxiliary Board, Susan and Doug Lyons, Robert H. Glaze; Mary and Leigh Block Fund, 2005.91. © 2006 Tina Barney, courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc.

The exhibition follows with a series of Sally Mann's (American, b. 1951) photographs of her children and their surroundings in Virginia.  Mann has consistently turned her camera on two most immediate subjects -- her family and the land -- and the resulting images are at once ordinary and profoundly personal senses.  Photographing her three children -- Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia -- every summer for a decade since their infancy in the mid-1980s, Mann recorded their playful, beautiful, and messy lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Mann's field of vision slowly expanded so by the mid-1990s her children had become but one component of a broader sense of place.  Two years ago, Mann returned to photographing her children, who are now grown.  The recent portraits retain the fierce sense of presence of the earlier pictures and are a testimony to time's passing that comes from Mann's studied appreciation of those things held most dear.

(above: Sally Mann (American, born 1951). Larry Shaving, 1991. Gelatin silver print; 50.8 x 61 cm. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery, New York. © 2006 Sally Mann.

The focus of So the Story Goes then shifts to the 2003 project A Storybook Life by Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, b. 1951), a collection of 76 photographs spanning three decades of his career, which constitutes both an installation and a publication.  Neither a single body of work nor a sampling of past photographs, A Storybook Life instead constructs its meaning as the viewer interprets the relationship of one image to another.  Unlike his other projects, for which he hired models or photographed strangers on the street, the subjects in A Storybook Life are almost entirely drawn from his own daily experiences, family members, and friends.

(above: Philip-Lorca diCorcia (American, born 1951). Hartford, 1980. Chromogenic color print; 40.6 x 50.8 cm. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York. © 2006 Philip-Lorca diCorcia, used by permission.

The next section of So the Story Goes features Larry Sultan's (American, b. 1946) decade-long project titled Pictures from Home (1982-1991). In his collection of images, Sultan portrays his parents as they go about their lives -- post-corporate retirement for his father and entrepreneurial home-selling for his mother -- against the quintessential backdrop of the American dream: a ranch house in the suburbs, a heated garage, and wall-to-wall carpeting.  He used his own contemporary photographs as pendants to his parents' old home movies and snapshots, exploring a more complete and complex sense of family. The chronological distance separating these two components raises questions of history, memory, and time.

(above: Larry Sultan (American, born 1946). Mom Posing for Me, 1984. Chromogenic color print; 73 x 99 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, restricted gift of Reva and David Logan, 2005.107. © 2006 Larry Sultan, courtesy of Janet Borden, Inc.

Arguably no artist, and certainly no photographer, of this era has created a more symbiotic relationship between life and art than Nan Goldin (American, b. 1951) -- who is featured in the final section of the exhibition.  For more than 40 years, she has recorded her world, not once arranging or directing the subjects of her verité images. Goldin created a sense of family among her friends in the artistic demi-monde of New York City's lower east side, where she moved in the 1980s.  Goldin, much like an early Kodak enthusiast, snaps away, fully embracing photography's potential for immediacy, emotion, and anecdote. Quite unlike either historical snapshots or today's family photos, her pictures present the very subjects considered outside the socially regulated realm. As viewers, we witness moments of utmost intimacy- funerals, love-making, hospitalization-and the rollercoaster of human emotions that accompany them.  The Art Institute will be the first Chicago venue to screen Goldin's legendary slideshow The Ballad of Sexual Dependency in its entirety, which is included in this section of the exhibition.

(above: Nan Goldin (American, born 1953). Cookie at Tin Pan Alley , NYC , 1983, from the multimedia installation, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency . Silver-dye bleach print; 65.4 x 97.8 cm. Courtesy of Nan Goldin and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York. © 2006 Nan Goldin, courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.

With So the Story Goes, the Art Institute -- the only venue for this groundbreaking exhibition -- brings together the work of the best contemporary photographers to create a trenchant meditation on everyday life, notions of family, and self.Barney, diCorcia, Goldin, Mann, and Sultan are all expected as honored guests at "Snap" -- the first ever benefit gala organized by the Art Institute's Photography Department -- on September 15, 2006.  In addition, the five artists will speak during an opening day celebration, September 16, from 11:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.. 


So the Story Goes Catalogue

A catalogue exclusively distributed by Yale University Press will accompany So the Story Goes. The publication will feature an introductory essay by exhibition curator Katherine Bussard, Assistant Curator of Photography, entries on each of the five artists, four-color reproductions of nearly 20 photographs by each artist, and a handful of historical illustrations. Bussard, a Ph.D. candidate in Art History at the City University of New York, specializes in contemporary photography and has worked previously for the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Clark Art Institute.

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