Thursday, October 7, 2010

Postmasters: Chris Verene 'Family'

Chris Verene's 'Family,' on view at Postmasters, is a series of photographs depicting the artist’s poor, jobless, divorced, working-class yet very American family over a span of 26 years. Verene's exhibit portrays an unidealized, genuine reality that our ‘Jersey Shore,’ ‘Teen Mom’-obsessed culture just doesn't get to see.

Each wall in the gallery is devoted to a certain mix of characters, but the theme of deficiency and economic disarray pervades. Whether it’s shown as the laid-off divorcee who never quite recovers, or the young single mother who goes from living in her car to living in an abandoned restaurant, each picture displays this hidden sector of society that doesn’t live like your stereotypical American family.

The gritty photos of imperfect characters are accompanied by a written narration explaining the context. One photo depicts a father with his daughter at McDonalds. The caption definitively reads, “My cousin Steve with his daughter. His wife had just left them.” Another of an infant crying on a bare mattress next to a frying pan is the image that mnemonically sticks. Then, there’s the last picture of Grandma waving goodbye under an American flag.

As you go down the line of photos, the emotions rise and fall, but the characters never cease to be relatable and in ways entertaining—the Uncle that never moved out of Grandma’s or the overweight cousin you had to drag along on dates.

It’s a relevant show depicting the economic troubles of the American working class, and the end where Grandma America sends you off with a wave.


  1. You do a good job of describing specific pieces and the overall feel of the show, but I think the first two paragraphs could be strengthened. My immediate response was to question how "poor, jobless, [etc.]" are not "very American". Alternate pop-culture references would help, as the ones you mention are associated with working class families. It is important to explain what definition of "stereotypical American family" you are using.

    I also think the implications of the artist’s relationship to his subjects and the span of years depicted should be addressed. Another possible point of discussion is the contrast between the subjects and the gallery's target demographic.

  2. Another thought... maybe a simpler way to strengthen your discussion would be to describe how this family is different from the "idealized" (rather than "stereotypical") American family. I understand what you are getting at, but it could be reworded.

  3. I like how your writing carries us through the show and through the emotions and responses that you had to the images. You make the reader feel like she has experienced the show with you. You describe the aura or ambiance of the show very well.
    I like how you said that “Verene's exhibit portrays an unidealized, genuine reality that our ‘Jersey Shore,’ ‘Teen Mom’-obsessed culture just doesn't get to see.” I think the works do exactly that. However, I don’t think that they portray poverty and hardship as an overarching theme (which you imply at other times), but simply an unglamourized life that rarely makes it into the spotlight.
    I also would be interested in a discussion of the quality of the photographs. The photographs are glossy, beautiful, compelling and well composed. How does this affect the content of the work? I think the glossiness of the photos contrasts sharply with the dinginess of the interiors.