Embarrassment of Riches · Picturing Global Wealth, 2000-2010

The exhibition explores how contemporary media artists have depicted wealth during the last 10 years. Organized by David Little, Curator of Photography and New Media, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Embarrassment of Riches upends the usual attention paid to images of poverty in publications and museums, and instead analyzing the cultural impact of wealth. Following a decade of unprecedented historical flows and fluctuations of wealth on a global scale, this exhibition is not a glorification of affluence and consumerism, rather, an examination of the transformative effects of prosperity.

The exhibition includes photographs and a selection of video works by international artists: Tina Barney, Edward Burtynsky, Luc Delahaye, Andy Freeberg, Lee Friedlander, Jacqueline Hassink, Christian Jankowski, Annie Leibovitz, Sze Tsung Leong, Abelardo Morell, Martin Parr, Robert Polidori, Alex Prager, Cindy Sherman, Alec Soth, Eve Sussman, and Yvonne Venegas.

“These artists have captured the different ways that wealth manifests itself visually, from individuals who demonstrate their money publicly through fashion and social rituals to governments who transform cities through new architecture,” Little said. “But as this exhibition will show, these works do not just document, they also comment on these societies and engage our own perceptions through compelling imagery as well as humor.”

Throughout history, photographers have sought to document the effects of the economy, a key concern of journalism. But they have focused their attention and cameras almost exclusively on the plight of the poor or the socially disadvantaged. Most famous are Lewis Hine’s documentation of child labor at the beginning of the 20th century and the Farm Security Administration’s survey of the migrant and rural poor during the Great Depression in the 1930s, as well as the numerous images of poverty and famine produced by photojournalists up to the present day.

In the exhibition’s three major themes – Currencies; Spaces; and Rituals of Wealth and Fashion – Jacqueline Hassink (Dutch) and Alec Soth (American) document the private spaces of haute couture. Annie Leibovitz (American) created an ad for Louis Vuitton’s handbags featuring Mikhail Gorbachev. Lee Friedlander (American) captures what happens backstage in his “New York Fashion Week” series from 2006. Yvonne Venegas (American) portrays upper class status as a continual work in progress in her documentary images of the family and home of the former mayor of Tijuana. Andy Freeberg's series Art Fare examines the relation between the art world and capital through humorous pictures of booths at Basil Art Fair, in Miami, one of the major fairs where art is sold to collectors and museums. Cindy Sherman (American) impersonates the patrons who support her work and the art world while Alex Prager (American) stages the Hollywood poses of a generation influenced by cinema style. Artists Eve Sussman (American), Martin Parr (British), and Tina Barney (American) examine the social rituals in Los Angeles, Europe and the Middle East, respectively. In his video work and conceptual installation, Christian Jankowski (German) parodies an art auction, and the borders between fiction and reality are nearly abolished.

Abe Morell (Cuban) reveals the speculative nature of value and the sheer quantity of goods that circulate within society. Luc Delahaye (French) investigates Davos, Switzerland and the behind-the-scenes financiers and politicians who fund commerce; and Sze Tsung Leong (Chinese) and Robert Polidori (Canadian) document the transformation of China and other emerging countries. Edward Burtynsky (Canadian) presents connections between land, industry, technology and architecture; he has spent the last twenty years investigating oil, one of the most lucrative and debated currencies in our culture, and the exhibition includes 2 dramatic images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.