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Lee Friedlander At Work

September 10 - December 11, 2005


(above: Lee Friedlander, Boston, 1985, from MIT, gelatin silver print, on loan from the artist courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco)


For the past five decades, Lee Friedlander has chronicled the American social and cultural landscape. Friedlander, one of the foremost photographers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, is known for his keen depictions of the worlds of jazz, of television, of urban landscapes and deserts, and of family. And throughout his prolific career, Friedlander has acknowledged the largely anonymous worker, making inventive pictures of the familiar, humdrum, yet overriding role of work in America. (right: Lee Friedlander, Canton, Ohio, 1980, from Factory Valleys, gelatin silver print, on loan from the artist courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco)

On view this fall at the Spencer Museum of Art, Lee Friedlander At Work comprises those images of Americans on the job. The exhibition, which opens September 10 and will remain on view through December 11 in the Kress Gallery, presents photographs Friedlander made over a sixteen-year period, from 1979 to 1990, his lens bearing witness to a paradigm shift in nine-to-five America. Through six photographic series that were commissioned by museum curators, magazine editors, foundations, and businesses, Friedlander explores the saga of the American worker. These images not only witness and document the radical change in the American workplace from blue collar to desktop, but also invite us to appreciate Friedlander's profound contribution to photography through one constant thread, the ubiquitous universe of work.

Prior to its presentation at the Spencer Museum of Art, Lee Friedlander At Work was on view in three major European venues in Cologne, Amsterdam, and Paris. The Spencer is one of just three venues in the United States to host the show. All works are gelatin silver prints, on loan from the artist courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

John Pultz, curator of photography for the Spencer, has long admired Friedlander's work and calls it "terribly important to photography of the last 40 years."

"I think that the photographs in this exhibition are among his strongest," Pultz says. "I saw the Factory Valley pictures when they were first made in the early 1980s and was blown away by them. They made me realize that Friedlander was not just a formalist, but also a thoughtful social observer. His images from that series of factory workers are at once sympathetic and intelligent, the best pictures I know of this subject. I also wanted the show here because its pictures of people working at computers are the first works of art I know of that reflect back to us what for many workers has become the way we spend our days, with eyes glued to unmoving computer screens. I thought that a university was an ideal place to think about the changes in work that Friedlander so eloquently describes."

Friedlander was born in 1934 in Aberdeen, Washington, and now lives in New York State. In 1963 George Eastman House mounted his first one-person exhibition, and in 1967 his work was included in the watershed exhibition New Documents at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Friedlander's pictures, which have been exhibited ever since, are in key photography collections, both public and private. He has received the MacArthur Foundation Award, three Guggenheim Fellowships, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. A major retrospective, including more than five hundred photographs, was mounted earlier this summer at the MoMA. (left: Lee Friedlander, Cray, 1986, gelatin silver print, on loan from the artist courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco)

At Work was organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, in partnership with The Photography Collection, SK Cultural Foundation, Cologne, Germany. The Spencer Museum of Art venue is funded in part by Dave and Gunda Hiebert, the Kansas Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.



In conjunction with the exhibition Lee Friedlander At Work, artist David Rees will speak on the topic "Laughing At Work" on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 7 PM in the museum's auditorium. A reception and book signing, hosted by the Spencer's Student Advisory Board, will follow in the Central Court.

Best-known for Get Your War On, a comic strip that now appears in Rolling Stone, Rees combines public-domain clip art of generic office-cubicle workers with satiric dialogue to address an array of cultural, social and political issues. Rees's other cult-hit comic strips, all of which can be viewed at his website, include My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable and My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable. His lecture at the Spencer will draw inspiration from My New Filing Technique Is Unstoppable, which will soon begin as a regular comic feature in The London Guardian newspaper. His comics and writing also have appeared in GQ, the Village Voice, LA Weekly, Jane, Blender, Bizarre, and Punk Planet. He is also a contributor to the Huffington Post. Rees, a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., and graduate of Oberlin College, lives in Brooklyn.

The lecture at the Spencer, which may include some adult language and content, is informed and inspired by Rees's temporary-job stints working in so-called "cube farms" for several large corporations. This will be Rees's second visit to Lawrence in a year; last fall he spoke to an overflow crowd at the downtown art gallery/art supply store, The Olive Gallery.

-- KU Osher Lifelong Learning Institute: "Museum Tour," September 22, 2-4 p.m. Lecture on Lee Friedlander and gallery talk by John Pultz. SMA Auditorium and Kress Gallery. Class sponsored by KU Continuing Education. Enrollment required. Please contact University of Kansas Continuing Education, 785-864-KUCE (5823)
-- The Spencer @ Work Film Series presented by KU Faculty. Discussion follows. SMA Auditorium.
September 22: A Single Spark presented by Michael Baskett, assistant professor of theatre & film, 7 p.m.
October 1: Bread and Roses presented by Catherine Preston, associate professor of theatre & film, 2 p.m.
October 5: The Take presented by Tamara Falicov, assistant professor of theatre& film, 7 p.m.
-- Faculty Colloquium: "Laboring Americans," September 23, 9-12 p.m., Kress Gallery. Presentations by KU faculty and discussion. Lunch to follow. Co-sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities.
-- Gallery Conversations: Curator John Pultz, October 6, 12:15 p.m. Kress Gallery.
-- Children's Art Appreciation Class: "9 to 5," Look at photographs of people at work and create a newspaper feature story about your imaginary job. October 8. 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. To enroll, contact Karen Gerety, education department, 785-864-0137
-- Gallery Conversations: Luke Jordan, lecturer, department of design, on Feeding Lawrence/Work + Workplace, October 20, 12:15 p.m. Central Court.
-- Gallery Talk: Curator John Pultz. November 10, 5:30 p.m. Kress Gallery.
-- Feature Film: Office Space, December 8, 7 p.m. SMA Auditorium.

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:

rev. 9/19/05

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