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After the Gold Rush: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection

After the Gold Rush

Contemporary Photographs from the Collection

March 22, 2011–January 2, 2012

Recent tumult at home and abroad has prompted soul-searching in some quarters of America, and many people have a sense that the promise of our founding ideals and the positive international sway we once exerted are in eclipse. Recent flare-ups over art and censorship echo the "culture wars" of the 1980s and 1990s, which, with an economic collapse and a war seemingly in a stalemate reminiscent of the 1970s, add to the feeling of déjà vu. While previous exhibitions in this gallery have revolved around the nature of photography itself or historical examinations of a formal or aesthetic concept, this installation gathers works made since 1979 that address the culture at large.

The title of the exhibition comes from a song of 1970 by Neil Young; the verses contrast a romanticized past, a present of squandered plenty, and an uncertain future. Like the song, the earlier works in this selection fulfill the poet Ezra Pound's definition of literature—"news that stays news"—and in many cases these missives from another time feel uncannily as if they could have been made yesterday. In the broadest sense, these works from the 1980s and 1990s reflect on marginalized voices whose ability to be heard is the true gauge of a healthy democracy.

The most recent works in the exhibition take an epic perspective that brings into focus the contradictions and complexities of our current condition—from the humanitarian "soft power" that mitigates our often bellicose presence in the world to the isolating effects of how we pursue happiness. The final piece, a suite of photographs by the German-born, London-based photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, offers a more hopeful note, gazing beyond our narrow purview and shifting from macro to micro to reveal the connectedness of all things.