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Robert Adams
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Pure Products of America

Photographs 1968 - 1978 by Robert Adams, Bill Owens, and Henry Wessel


May 22 - July 16, 1999
523 W 24 Street


Press Release

Matthew Marks is pleased to announce Pure Products of America: Photographs 1968–1978 by Robert Adams, Bill Owens and Henry Wessel, an exhibition curated by Jeffrey Peabody, the next exhibition in his gallery at 523 West Twenty-fourth Street.

The exhibition will include approximately 15 vintage black-and-white photographs by each artist. Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through most of the following decade, Adams, Owens, and Wessel photographed suburban America. These distinct bodies of work portray vernacular America during a time of extraordinary change and expansion. The exhibition's title refers to a William Carlos Williams poem from 1923 with the lines "The pure products of America/go crazy."

Adams concentrated on the ravaged landscape and banal architecture of the residential and commercial sections surrounding Denver, where uncontrolled development was permanently altering the geography as well as the way people lived. Adams recorded the landscape's destruction and the hastily conceived, instant structures that filled it. His images manage to convey a spectacular, if unorthodox, beauty.

Wessel worked in a variety of locales, roaming through the West and Southwest, finding his subject matter in the "made places"—the subdivisions, lawns, parks, and commercial strips of these regions. The often disheveled facades of dwellings and their odd combinations of features are organized in surprising compositions. Figures, when they appear, are almost always alone in these settings; they are caught lost in thought or staring into the distance.

Owens documented the social life of suburbia, photographing hundreds of families in three California communities. The photographs, usually accompanied by the subjects' own quotes about their lives and homes, are astonishingly personal, sometimes frightening or humorous revelations about the American Dream. Many of these works were included in Owens's book Suburbia, which created a sensation in 1973. He was the first to take a sustained look at America's middle-class and mainstream suburban experience, unlike earlier documentary photographers, whose subjects were found on the edges of society.

All three photographers have exhibited widely. Adams and Wessel were both included in the groundbreaking 1975 exhibition "New Topographics" at George Eastman House in Rochester and in The Museum of Modern Art's 1991 exhibition "Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort." Adams was included in Documenta by in 1997 and was the subject of a one-person exhibition, "What We Bought: The New World," at the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, in 1995. Wessel had a one-person exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1998. An exhibition of Owens's work was held in 1998 at the Centre Photographique d'Ile-de-France, Paris, and a retrospective is being organized by the San Jose Museum of Art for 1999.

Pure Products of America: Photographs 1968–1978 by Robert Adams, Bill Owens and Henry Wessel will be on view at Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 West Twenty-fourth Street (between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues), through Friday, July 16, 1999. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM; after July 1 hours are Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM.

For further information or photographs, please contact Jeffrey Peabody at (212) 243-0200.

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