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Zoe Strauss: Ten Years

January 14–April 22, 2012

Zoe Strauss: Ten Years is a mid-career retrospective of the acclaimed photographer's work and the first critical assessment of her ten-year project to exhibit her photographs annually in a space beneath a section of Interstate-95 (I-95) in South Philadelphia. Strauss's subjects are broad but her primary focus is on working-class experience, including the most disenfranchised people and places. Her photographs offer a poignant, troubling portrait of contemporary America. Strauss (American, born 1970) states that her ambition is "to create an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life." Zoe Strauss: Ten Years will offer one version of that narrative, presenting approximately one hundred and fifty of her photographs, along with slideshows displaying more of her imagery, and installations on billboards throughout Philadelphia that will extend the exhibition beyond the Museum. Between 2001 and 2010, Strauss hosted yearly day-long exhibitions of her photographs under an elevated section of I-95. She affixed prints to columns in an area roughly the size of a football field, providing visitors with a map keyed to a list of photograph titles. Prints of the exhibited images were available for sale for five dollars, with Strauss stationed at a nearby table to sign them. These installations animated the site with art, commerce, and social interaction, transforming it into a vibrant public space. Zoe Strauss: Ten Years will examine how, for Strauss, the opposite settings of the abandoned urban zone under I-95 and the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art complement each other. Her engagement with both places is deep and she highly values the Museum as a place for civic discourse, just as she strove to make the space under I-95 a place for social interaction. Untrained as a photographer or artist, Strauss nevertheless founded the Philadelphia Public Art Project in 1995 with the objective of exhibiting art in nontraditional venues. She turned to the camera in 2000 as the most direct instrument to represent her chosen subjects. In 2006, Strauss participated in the Whitney Biennial. In 2008 she published her first book, America.

Billboard Project

The Billboard Project is a series of 54 billboards featuring photographs by Zoe Strauss, installed as part of the exhibition . Installed throughout Philadelphia, the project is loosely structured around the themes of the Odyssey, presenting an epic story about journey and homecoming. For ten years Strauss installed her annual I-95 exhibition in South Philadelphia which she describes as an "epic narrative about the beauty and struggle of everyday life." The Billboard Project represents another telling of that narrative. Displaying photographs from Strauss's travels around the country including Grand Isle Beach in the Gulf of Mexico, Venice Beach, CA, Rosedale, MS, and Fairbanks, AK, the Billboard Project is designed for both residents and visitors, encouraging each to construct their own narrative and journey around these images. In addition to underscoring the themes of journey and homecoming, the billboards will also touch upon the subjects of migration and immigration, fortune, hospitality, conflict and resolution, decision-making and mystery.

Zoe Strauss, Ten Years: Billboard Project Tour

“ The billboards will exhibit photos without text, branding or logos. They effectively eliminate 53 spaces available for commercial advertising. ” –Zoe Strauss



The artist duo Megawords (Dan Murphy, American, born 1976; and Anthony Smyrski, American, born 1980) creates installations that are equal parts gathering space, event venue, artist studio, and store. The artist Zoe Strauss and the Museum invited them to design this installation as a satellite component of the exhibition , on view in the Honickman and Berman Galleries. Megawords has created a two-part zone in which to interact with people and offer alternatives to the ways visitors usually inhabit the Museum. The alcove presents publications that form a constellation of ideas and concerns central to Megawords' thinking. To the left of the alcove is a workspace for the artists, and a site for public programs, but it is also available as an area where visitors can relax, read, and ask questions. Photography and public installations are important to both Megawords and Zoe Strauss. Megawords' eponymous magazine consists primarily of photographs by Murphy and Smyrski as well as their numerous collaborators, documenting life and art in cities across the globe. A new issue of the magazine has been created specifically for this Museum installation. Collaboration and DIY art projects are critical to Megawords' practice, and the production of the resulting works is always as important as their display. They treat every aspect of an installation's design, construction, and use as a relevant creative act. Within this installation, they will produce a range of materials including artist books by several of their peers. Ownership of public space is the central matter at stake in all Megawords projects. Who gets to design, decorate, and use public places—including museums? Who has the authority to define how and for whom our cities and public institutions function? Megawords insists that we all do, but we must roll up our sleeves and literally make the spaces—both physical and imaginative—where we want to meet, think, work, and play. The artists will be present every Friday from 12-6 pm. As a service to the public a notary will be available in the space every Friday afternoon from 3-5 p.m.

Main Building


This exhibition is made possible by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art 2010 Photography Portfolio Competition also provided support along with Lois and Julian Brodsky, Dina and Jerry Wind, the Edna W. Andrade Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation, Lynne and Harold Honickman and the Friends of the Alfred Stieglitz Center.


Peter Barberie, The Brodsky Curator of Photographs, Alfred Stieglitz Center

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