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Dreaming California: Ruth Marion-Baruch, Bill Owens, and Larry Sultan (January 18 — May 21, 2006)
Berkeley, CA, November 28, 2005—The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is proud to announce Dreaming California: Ruth-Marion Baruch, Bill Owens, and Larry Sultan, an exhibition exploring the reality and the illusion of the California dream through the work of three Bay Area photographers. The exhibition is on view in the Theater Gallery from January 18 through May 21, 2006.
After the intense cultural and political change of the 1960s there emerged a new mainstream America that was more amenable to diverse lifestyles, political views, and belief systems. Dreaming California takes a look at California—the epicenter for much of this cultural change—as it appears in work from the 1960s to the present by three photographers whose work closely examines the promise and reality of modern American life.
In her series Illusions for Sale, San Francisco (1961), Ruth-Marion Baruch visited the upscale department stores in San Francisco's Union Square and photographed women absorbed in the process of shopping. Her photographs—semi-private revelations of women trying on hats and gowns—question the relationship between fashion, consumerism, and identity. Dreaming California also includes works from Baruch's series Haight Ashbury, photographed in 1967 at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, the heart of San Francisco's alternative "hippie" community. Juxtaposed, the two series vividly illustrate the shift in consciousness that took place in America between the generation born in the Depression era and the baby boomers coming of age in the late 1960s.
Bill Owens's series Suburbia explores the geographic and cultural migration of middle-class America in the 1970s from the frightening city to the safety and conformity of the suburbs, characterized by tract homes, manicured lawns, and abundantly stocked refrigerators. Owens's photographs of the rituals of this peaceful existence—from a couple proudly enjoying their mirrored bedroom to the Sunday routine of the New York Times and a roast dinner—capture the optimism and humor, and also the dislocation of the era. Also included in the exhibition are photographs from Owens's subsequent series Our Kind of People; Working: I Do It for the Money; and Leisure, as well as a selection of his most recent short digital movies.
In the 1980s, Larry Sultan set out to photograph his semi-retired parents at home in the San Fernando Valley, the suburban area where Sultan grew up in the 1950s, for the series Pictures From Home. Through photographs of his parents talking on the phone, waking up, reading the newspaper, or cooking a turkey, Sultan creates a loving final chapter of his own family album while creating a vision of aging that is almost mundane in its domesticity. In 1999, Sultan began work on his series The Valley, which documents the adult film industry's use of suburban homes as settings for pornographic movies. Sultan's photographs provocatively investigate the meaning of suburbia by juxtaposing personal belongings in these rented homes—framed family photographs, religious objects, and children's dolls—with the lighting, camera equipment, and actors involved in the adult films. This is the first time that works from these two series have been exhibited together in the U.S. Juxtaposed, they suggest strikingly contrasting views of America's middle-class ideal.
About the artists
Ruth-Marion Baruch (born Germany, 1922-1997) was the first woman to receive a Masters of Fine Arts in Photography from Ohio University. She and her husband, photographer Pirkle Jones, attended the first photography class held at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now San Francisco Art Institute), studying with Ansel Adams, Minor White, Homer Page, Edward Weston, and Dorothy Lange. Her work has been exhibited at galleries and museums around the country including the de Young Museum in San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Amon Carter Museum in Texas and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Born in San Jose, California, in 1938, Bill Owens attended California State University at Chico, and in 1966 entered San Francisco State College to study photography. The photographs presented in Dreaming California consist of works from his four major publications, Suburbia, Working (I do it for the money), Our Kind of People and Leisure. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, and Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, among others. A retrospective of Owens' work was organized by the San Jose Museum of Art in 2000. Owens, who lives and works in Hayward, California, continues to chronicle the lives and culture of middle-class Americans.
Raised in the San Fernando Valley, Larry Sultan studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. His first major work was Evidence, a collaborative project with artist Mike Mandel that comprised photographs from the files of government agencies, local corporations, and research institutions that, assembled in the narrative format of a book, produced a witty and insightful look at contemporary American culture. In 1992 Sultan compiled the book and accompanying exhibition Pictures from Home, which explores the meaning of family and home through the artist's own photographs, diaries, family artifacts, and stills from his parents' home movies. The series was presented at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; the Chicago Cultural Center; the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and the San Jose Museum of Art. The Valley was the subject of a major exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2004.
Dreaming California: Ruth-Marion Baruch, Bill Owens, and Larry Sultan is curated by Gary Bogus, Stephanie Cannizzo, and Dara Solomon. Admission to the Theater Gallery is free.
The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Additional support is provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Bernard Osher Foundation, Packard Humanities Institute, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Columbia Foundation, the Christensen Fund, the William H. Donner Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, Gap Inc., other private foundations and corporations, and our individual donors and members. Major endowment support has been provided by the Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation and by George Gund III.
Gap Inc. is proud to support First Impressions: Free First Thursdays at BAM/PFA. For more information about Free First Thursday gallery tours and screenings visit our website at bampfa.berkeley.edu.
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Located at 2626 Bancroft Way, just below College Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.
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General admission is $8; admission for seniors, disabled persons, non-UC Berkeley students, and young adults (13 – 17) is $5; admission for BAM/PFA members, UC Berkeley students, staff and faculty, and children under 12 is free; admission for group tours is $3 per person (to arrange a group tour, call  642-5188). Admission is free on the first Thursday of each month.
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