LARRY SULTAN: THE VALLEY
Opening: Saturday, 11 September, from 4 pm
The Galerie Thomas Zander presents Larry Sultan: The Valley, an exhibition of photographs by Bay Area artist Larry Sultan that looks at the transformation of middle-class suburban homes into stage sets for adult films.
Featuring color photographs taken since 1999, The Valley is a photographic investigation into the meaning of home and family. The series examines why the ideal of middle-class domesticity lends itself to a most curious form of appropriation—use as a setting for pornographic films. The project also questions the notion of photographic truth, a popular subject of inquiry for contemporary artists.
On recent excursions to the San Fernando Valley, Sultan noticed that ordinary houses in the vicinity were being rented for a few days at a time to be used as sets for adult films. Fascinated by this practice, Sultan undertook his current work not as a meditation on the morality or a sociology of pornography, but as an investigation into what home, work, domesticity, and suburbia mean when used as charged, symbolic backdrops for adult films. Sultan’s complex photographs negotiate the boundary between fiction and truth — they take advantage of the seductive cinematic lighting, yet they also divulge the frayed edges of the set and the boredom behind theatrical personas. Sultan’s contemplative portraits reveal the working actors behind the film characters in honest off-screen moments of hunger, ennui or fatigue.
From May to August 2004, the show was on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Sandra Phillips, director of the museum and curator of the exhibition says, “Larry Sultan’s new work is visually stunning. Although nominally about the industry of adult sexual fantasy, the true subject of Sultan’s pictures is how photography is used in the construction of that fantasy—and how it can also function as a critical tool to dismantle those same illusions. Sultan is a leading figure in the Bay Area art community, both as an artist and as a teacher, and we are proud to present his thoughtful work at SFMOMA again.”
Raised in the San Fernando Valley, Larry Sultan studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, and though he has made Northern California his home, his work has consistently engaged the culture of Southern California. His first major work was a collaborative project with artist Mike Mandel, a book of appropriated photographs, Evidence, and a subsequent exhibition organized by SFMOMA in 1977. These pictures came from the files of government agencies, local corporations, and research institutions and, assembled in the narrative format of a book, produced a witty, provocative, and insightful look at contemporary American culture. In 1992 Sultan compiled the book and accompanying exhibition Pictures from Home, which approaches the meaning of family and home through the artist’s own photographs, extensive diaristic writing, family artifacts, and stills from his parents’ home movies. Like The Valley, the photos in Pictures from Home engage ideas of truth, fantasy, and artifice.
A fully illustrated catalogue of the series The Valley has been published by Scalo Press, Zurich, 2004.