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In the Vernacular

February 6, 2010–May 31, 2010
Galleries 1–2

Vernacular photographs—those countless ordinary and utilitarian pictures made for souvenir postcards, government archives, police case files, pin-up posters, networking Web sites, and the pages of magazines, newspapers, or family albums—have been both the inspiration for and the antithesis of fine-art photography for over a century. In their struggle to gain legitimacy in the art world, fine-art photographers at the turn of the 20th century endeavored to distance their work from the amateur, commonplace, and practical photographs that had become so familiar in everyday experience.

This exhibition presents the work of artists who chose instead to strategically use photography’s everyday forms as a source of inspiration, consciously appropriating, reworking, and interrogating the aesthetics, content, and means of distribution associated with vernacular photography. Photographs by Walker Evans, Andy Warhol, Lee Friedlander, Cindy Sherman, Martin Parr, Nikki S. Lee, and others represented in the Art Institute’s permanent collection challenge us to reevaluate the impact, value, and status of the photographs we encounter in our daily lives. These images persuade us to consider the ways in which photographs function as significant bearers of complex meaning, rather than mere descriptions or reflections of the world, whether they grace the walls of a museum, the pages of a magazine, the files in a cabinet, or a living room mantel.

Please note: Some images may be inappropriate for younger visitors.

Garry Winogrand. Cape Kennedy, Florida, (Apollo 11 Moon Shot), 1969. Gift of Elizabeth and Frederick Myers. © Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.