Penelope Umbrico Discusses Her SUNS Series Works

Mark Moore Fine Art
Aug 2, 2017 6:50PM

Penelope Umbrico offers a radical reinterpretation of everyday consumer and vernacular images. Umbrico works “within the virtual world of consumer marketing and social media, traveling through the relentless flow of seductive images, objects, and information that surrounds us, searching for decisive moments—but in these worlds, decisive moments are cultural absurdities.”

She finds these moments in the pages of consumer product mail-order catalogs, travel and leisure brochures; and websites like Craigslist, EBay, and Flickr. Identifying image typologies—candy-colored horizons and sunsets, books used as props—brings the farcical, surreal nature of consumerism to new light.

In the artist statement below, Umbrico outlines the concepts behind her iconic "Suns From Flickr" Series works of the last decade.

PENELOPE UMBRICO "2,303,057 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (Partial) 09/25/07", 2007 / detail of 2300 4x6 machine c-prints / dimensions variable / Image of the installation at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia / COLLECTION OF THE SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

I began the project "Suns from Sunsets from Flickr" in 2006 when, looking for the most photographed subject, I searched the photo-sharing website Flickr and found “sunsets” to be the most present (tagged) resulting in 541,795 in 2006 hits. I thought it peculiar that the sun, the quintessential giver of life and warmth, constant in our lives, symbol of enlightenment, spirituality, eternity, all things unreachable and ephemeral, omnipotent provider of optimism and vitamin D… and so ubiquitously photographed, is now subsumed to the internet – this warm singular object made multiple in the electronic space of the web, and viewed within the cool light of the screen.

PENELOPE UMBRICO "Sunset Portraits from 11,063,296 Flickr Sunsets on July 17, 2012", 2012 / detail image of the installation for Daegu Biennial, Korea / COLLECTION OF THE ORANGE COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

I collected those sunsets from Flickr that had the most defined suns in them, and cropped just the suns from these images. To date, I have made a total of 4500 4x6 images of suns from these sunsets, which I upload to consumer photo-labs to be printed as 4” x 6” machine c-prints. For each installation the title reflects the number of hits I get searching “sunset” on Flickr at the time of installation– for example the first installation was 541,795 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (Partial) 01/23/06 in 2006; a year later: 2,303,057 Suns from Sunsets from Flickr (Partial) 09/25/07 - the (Partial) in the title refers to the fact that the installation is only a fragment of the number of sunsets on Flickr at that time. Examples of subsequent installation titles:        

10,291,373 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 01/12/12 13,806,070 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 11/01/13 18,297,350 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 04/16/14  21,314,840 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 05/14/14 27,709,969 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 05/05/15  27,694,473 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 05/11/15 30,240,577 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 03/04/16

"28,534,323 Suns from Sunset from Flickr (Partial) 8/3/05", 2015 / Type C-print; 160” high x 354” wide (a total of 2360 unique 4” x 6” prints)  / COLLECTION OF THE PEREZ ART MUSEUM MIAMI

… the title itself becoming a comment on the ever increasing use of web-based photo communities and a reflection of the collective content there. And since this number only lasts an instant, its recording is analogous to the act of photographing the sunset itself.

Perhaps part of the beauty of taking a picture of a sunset is that while you are doing it it’s likely that a million other people are doing it as well – at exactly the same time. I love this idea of collective practice, something we all engage in despite any artistic concern, knowing that there have been millions before and there will be millions after. While the intent of photographing a sunset may be to capture something ephemeral or to assert an individual subjective point of view–the result is quite the opposite - through the technology of our common cameras we experience the power of millions of synoptic views, all shared the same way, at the same moment. To claim individual authorship while photographing a sunset is to disengage from this collective practice and therefor negate a large part of why capturing a sunset is so irresistible in the first place.

Detail Image of "30,240,577 Suns (from Sunsets) from Flickr (Partial) 03/04/16" Installed

Penelope Umbrico (born in Philadelphia, 1957) graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York. She has participated extensively in solo and group exhibitions, including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York. Umbrico is core faculty in the School of Visual Arts MFA Photography, Video, and Related Media Program. Selected public collections include the Guggenheim Museum (NY), International Center of Photography (NY), McNay Museum of Art (TX), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), Museum of Contemporary Photography (IL), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (CA), Museum of Modern Art (NY), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA), among others. She lives in New York City.

For a full biography and curriculum vitae, please click the link below:

For an overview of current works available by Penelope Umbrico, please visit out ARTSY artist page at:

PENELOPE UMBRICO / "28,534,323 Suns from Sunset from Flickr (Partial)", 2016 / Type C-print / 160” high x 354” wide (a total of 2360 unique 4” x 6” prints) / COLLECTION OF THE MILWAULKEE ART MUSEUM

Mark Moore Fine Art