LARRY SULTAN Homeland


Galerie Thomas Zander presents photographs of the American artist Larry Sultan from his new series Homeland.

For his latest body of work, Larry Sultan hired Mexican day laborers as actors and subjects in his photographs, which he made on the outskirts of Southern Californian suburbs. He found these illegal laborers outside a nearby strip mall where hundreds of men wait day by day to be picked up for hourly work. Sultan directed the men’s actions and gestures while drawing from his own memories of home life and interpretations of their experiences as exiles. The photographs romanticize the terrain of the suburbs and charge the activities of day laborers, which are rather mundane in nature, with metaphorical meaning: carrying food to a potluck, stringing lights on a tree, rowing a boat on a river. They are routines and rituals related to place and domesticity and suggest that the identities of the subjects are those of inhabitants or travelers with a rightful claim to home and happiness.

For the artist, the settings of the photographs are deeply reminiscent of the terrain he sought out as a child: empty fields behind malls and scruffy borderlands of the LA river that ran behind his parents’ house in the San Fernando Valley. The artist describes it as follows: “In my own past, these places represented a small and vanishing patch of paradise that existed just outside of the boundaries of property and ownership; a free zone that eased my (adolescent) uncertainty and provided a safe place away from the judgments of others.“

The works of the series Homeland are no idylls, but constructions full of ambiguity, which allude to the gulf between the photographs and the real dramas outside the image frame: to the poignancy of displacement and to the loss and longings of the economic migrants who line our streets.

Larry Sultan (born 1946, lives in the San Francisco Bay area) was raised in the San Fernando Valley, studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and currently teaches at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. In his work, Sultan deals with cultural phenomena of Southern California, which can often be taken as indicators of more general developments and hopes. His seminal early work Evidence from the 1970s is a collaboration with the artist Mike Mandel. Sultan and Mandel subsequently collaborated on several artistic projects, offering pointed glimpses into contemporary U.S.-American culture. In 1992 Sultan produced the series Pictures from Home, which investigates notions of home and family through his own photographs, his diaristic writing and stills from his parents’ home movies. As in Sultan’s later series The Valley, which was on view at 2004 Galerie Thomas Zander in 2004, the artist returns to the part of California where he was raised in Pictures from Home and in his latest body of work Homeland. These series examine facets of the American Dream, which is still associated with California. Sultan negotiates concepts of truth and artefact and in a conceptual way he uses the different genres of photography from private family archive in Pictures from Home to the posed, large format landscape photographs of Homeland. Larry Sultan’s work is the subject of numerous international exhibitions, it is collected by museums and institutions worldwide and accompanied by a number of publications. A comprehensive monograph on the collaborative projects of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel is forthcoming in early 2010.

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