Close Out

Brian Ulrich

  • Jewel Food Store, Lake Meadows Center, Chicago (1954)
  • OPA Model Grocery Store, Chicago (1943)
  • Whale Fountain, Evergreen Plaza Mall, Evergreen Park, Illinois (1966)
  • Antique Gun Traders, Chicago (1954)
  • Harris School Rummage Sale, Chicago (1961)
  • Cook County Sheriff Finds Stolen TVs
  • JC Penney Court, Rolling Acres Mall (2012)
  • Rolling Acres Mall (2008)
  • City Life, Dixie Square Mall (2008)
  • Art for Less #5 (2009)
  • Toys and Gifts (2009)
  • Toys and Gifts (2009–10) [Installation View]
  • A Thief Has a Hard Time (2012) [Detail]
  • What You Reinforce Is What You Get (2013) [Detail]
  • What You Reinforce Is What You Get (2013) [Detail]
  • What You Reinforce Is What You Get (2013) [Detail]

In 2008, through research on the work in his Copia series, Brian Ulrich began collecting, salvaging, and archiving objects, photographs, signage, and ephemera from the remnants of the retail spaces he had been photographing. Many of these objects evoked specific narratives of American consumer culture from important eras in its economic history. Ulrich liked the idea of extending the life cycle of the work in Copia backwards, a proverbial prequel to his work since 2001. Large parts of this collection are 4x5 and 2x2 film negatives from press archives from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Many of these ill-fated exposures were never published and languished until offered for sale on auction websites. The selection of these photographs references the economic period some economists describe as the “Great Prosperity”—the period from the end of World War II until the late 1970s when the American middle class experienced its greatest growth in income. The Close Out exhibition and catalog also reference the period that followed, the “Great Regression,” in which middle-class income began to shrink. These images illustrate the country’s clear trajectory from the manufacture of desire to its unintended result, a saga epitomized through our relationship to the things we buy and own.

Copies of the exhibition catalog, Close Out: Retail Relics and Ephemera, are now available from the Anderson Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University.