27 April - 26 May 2012

Francis Ruyter

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

The Alan Cristea Gallery will present the first solo exhibition in London of American artist Francis Ruyter (b. 1968 Washington DC). This show will present eight paintings which appropriate the landmark documentary photographs of the Farm Security Administration (FSA), held at the Library of Congress.

These iconic images show Americans at home, at work and at play, with an emphasis on rural and small-town life and the crippling effects of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and increasing farm mechanization. Ruyter is interested in the subject matter, the nature of an archive, appropriation strategies, and the fugitive qualities of color in relationship to history and theory. With these photographs, an early and powerful influence, his project's core concern of identity construction is refined via his specific combinations of photography, painting, color and subject matter. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an introduction by cultural commentator and writer Michael Bracewell.

Ruyter's current focus on this archive stems from contemporary parallels that he believes can be drawn from the economic and agricultural policies that resulted in the ecological disaster of the Dust Bowl. There is a strong biographical attraction for Ruyter as a first generation American (his father was a Dutch émigré in the aftermath of World War II).

"The archive contains an army of ghosts, readily reanimated. These photos are of Americans, and they represent those who go unnoticed, unrecognized and unrepresented", says Ruyter. "They are of us, or at least, some idea that we have of ourselves, they belong to us because of the way that they came into our world, as photos, not as people. It is a record of what was already lost to Americans even as it was being constructed, an American dream of self-determination, independence and freedom."

The Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Collection includes more than 164,000 black and white and color negatives created from 1935 to 1944 by a small but highly influential photography programme which depicted the challenges of rural poverty; the photographers - which included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Russell Lee and others created the image of the Depression in the US. Some of the most famous images portray people who were displaced from farms and migrated west or to industrial cities in search of work. "These images, produced through government agency quite miraculously transcend propaganda, and have become the material of an American identity... There are lessons to be found in this archive, and not only at the source, but also in the way it has been handled, attacked, challenged, used and politicized since its creation", concludes Ruyter. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is the name of a book, from which the title of the show is taken. Originating from a journalistic assignment, this epic work includes a beautiful and complex text by James Agee and stark and iconic photos by Walker Evans, and is a work in which artistic and journalistic integrity become one and the same thing.

Throughout his career Lisa Ruyter has exhibited internationally in museums which include the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, Istanbul, the Denver Art Museum, and the Essl Collection in Klosterneuburg, Vienna.

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