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December 1st, 2011
Mid-Career Survey Devoted to Acclaimed Photographer Zoe Strauss Examines Everyday Life and the Role of Art in the Modern City

Includes Over 50 Photographic Billboards Shown Throughout Philadelphia

Zoe Strauss: Ten Years
(January 14 – April 22, 2012)
Press Preview: Friday, January 13, 9 am – noon

Philadelphia, PA (December 1, 2011)—Zoe Strauss, a Philadelphia photographer with a growing international reputation, is the subject of a major exhibition that opens on January 14 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Zoe Strauss: Ten Years is a mid-career retrospective of this acclaimed artist’s work, representing the first critical assessment of her decade-long project to exhibit annually in a public space beneath Interstate-95 (I-95) in South Philadelphia. The exhibition will include 170 prints and a selection of artist-created slideshows, one of which will be projected on the Museum’s exterior façade during the exhibition’s opening week. Additional images by the artist will be displayed on over 50 billboards located throughout the city from Manayunk to West Philadelphia and from Northeast Philadelphia to I-95 South, extending the reach of the exhibition into many of the neighborhoods where Strauss has worked and from which she continues to draw inspiration.

“It is always welcome to encounter a gifted artist who is not only fully engaged with her world and all of its complexities—political, economic, social, and above all personal—but also determined to make something new and compelling of these realities,” notes Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “To share this with others requires a strong sense of commitment and a spirit of generosity, and it is fair to say that Strauss is well endowed with both. She has, from the very beginning of her career, focused both on social change and on the intersection of art and the public realm. Each of these is central to the way she defines her life and her work as an artist.”

Inspired by other photographers of the American scene, including William Eggleston, Walker Evans, and Nan Goldin, Strauss’ art has focused primarily on the fascinating and often disconcerting realities of everyday life. Much of her work has been done in and around Philadelphia, but Strauss has also traveled widely throughout the United States, exploring the South and the West and taking photographs in the aftermath of such catastrophic events as Hurricane Katrina, as seen in Mom Were OK, (2005), Biloxi, Mississippi.

A critical focus of the exhibition and the accompanying book will be a thorough assessment of Strauss' I-95 project. Between 2001 and 2010, she mounted annual one-day exhibitions of her photographs under an elevated section of the interstate highway that runs through South Philadelphia, close to the banks of the Delaware River. In an area roughly the size of a football field, she affixed her photographs to columns supporting the elevated highway, providing visitors with a map keyed to a list of their titles. Color photocopies of the exhibited images were available for sale for five dollars, with volunteers manning a sales table and Strauss stationed at a nearby table for signing. These annual installations animated the site with art, commerce, and social interaction, transforming the unused space into a vibrant public setting. The Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition will examine how, for Strauss, the contrasting settings of the abandoned urban zone under I-95 and the Museum’s galleries complement and, in an important sense, complete each other as spaces from which to address the city.

“The relationship between the city and the Museum is an important element of the exhibition and an important topic to Strauss herself,” said Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center. “She seeks to generate dialogue between the two, alerting viewers to the significance of the visual arts and of their own lives, and emphasizing their inter-connectedness. The exhibition’s gallery and the related programs will become a hub or a gathering spot, while the billboards and the exhibition’s connection to I-95 encourage broader civic discourse.”

In this spirit, the Museum is planning a broad range of programs, from a DJ dance party to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, to a series of Art After 5 musical events, to lectures, workshops, and public school collaborations.

Zoe Strauss: Ten Years will have number of low- and no-cost initiatives to increase accessibility to the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

  • Opening Party, January 14, 8pm. Music will start with a mix curated by Zoe Strauss and her wife, Lynn Bloom as guests arrive and will continue until 1 am, with DJ David Dye of WXPN and another special guest DJ. Drink tickets will be available, with light snacks and non-alcoholic beverages available free of charge. Tickets for the dance party are $8, available pre-party only, through beginning December 6.
  • Beginning on January 16, Strauss will offer scheduled office hours in the Director’s satellite office, where members of the public can meet and speak with the artist.
  • The Museum will host three free lectures in conjunction with the exhibition:
    • January 15: A conversation with Curator Peter Barberie, Photo Historian Sally Stein, and photographers Zoe Strauss and Allan Sekula.
    • March 4: A discussion with Strauss on the relation of her work to Bruce Springsteen.
    • March 11: A talk by artist Mark Bradford on March 11.

      Reservations are required; free tickets, which will include museum admission, will be available through the Museum’s online reservation system. 
  • As an integral component of and complement to Zoe Strauss: Ten Years, the Philadelphia artist duo Megawords will create a space for conversation adjacent to the exhibition gallery with seating, art, a special Zoe Strauss: Ten Years edition of their ‘zine, and books and postcards for sale. Here, Museum visitors will gather, talk, and read about various matters connected to the work of Strauss and Megawords artists Anthony Smyrski and Dan Murphy, including photography, city planning and urban living, and art and writing produced independently through ’zines, blogs, and other formats. Megawords will also sponsor Art After 5 on March 2, featuring the West Philadelphia Orchestra and Drummer Chris Powell, and offer a ’zine making workshop, a panel conversation about cities, and a film night. All events occur on pay what you wish Sundays (the first Sunday of every month).

Zoe Strauss: Ten Years is made possible by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art 2010 Photography Portfolio Competition also provided support along with Lois and Julian Brodsky, Dina and Jerry Wind, the Edna W. Andrade Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation, Lynne Harold Honickman and the Friends of the Alfred Stieglitz Center.

Special thanks to Clear Channel Outdoor and Krain Outdoor Advertising for donating billboards to extend the reach of the exhibition into the city of Philadelphia. Additional thanks to MB Productions and 3rd Street Services for partial support of the slideshow projections on the exterior of the Museum during the exhibition’s opening weekend.

About the Artist:
Zoe Strauss (American, born 1970) began making photographs in 2000. Although never trained formally as a photographer, Strauss founded the Philadelphia Public Art Project in 1995 with the objective of exhibiting art in non-traditional venues. Subsequently, she turned to the camera as the most direct instrument to represent her chosen subjects. 

In recent years Strauss has participated in the 2006 Whitney Biennial and has had solo exhibitions at the ICA Philadelphia in 2006 and the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in 2007 and 2009. She has participated in group shows or projects at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht (2006), PPOW Gallery (2008), and the Art Institute of Chicago (2009). She was a 2005 Pew Fellow and a 2007 United States Artists Gund Fellow in the Visual Arts. In 2008 she published her first book, America, which received an Art Forum “Best of 2008” award.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art will publish a catalogue with essays by Peter Barberie and the noted photo historian Sally Stein. It will include more than 150 of Strauss’ photographs, as well as images that document her career to date. 

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