Stephen Wirtz Gallery presents We Make You Us, an exhibition of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel’s groundbreaking collaborative works. Deeply influenced by West Coast conceptualism, Sultan and Mandel together created open-ended works that delved into appropriation and public art. The exhibition features examples from their acclaimed and influential 1977 project Evidence, as well as photographic works that document the duo’s series of temporary billboards installed in public spaces in the 1970s and 1980s.
Published in 1977, Evidence was first presented as a book of found photographic images that previously existed solely within the boundaries of the industrial, scientific, governmental and other institutional sources from which they were mined. Organized without explanation or description, it was one of the first conceptual photographic works of the 1970s to demonstrate that the meaning of a photograph is conditioned by the context and sequence in which it is seen.
The resulting collection exhibits a brilliant sensibility for the absurd and a keen awareness of the complexity that the single image possesses when viewed outside its original context. Some of the photographs are hilarious, others are perplexing, but it’s in their isolation from their original context that these images take on meanings that address the confluence of industry and corporate mischief, ingenuity and pseudo-science. The book has been recognized as a precursor to subsequent postmodern strategies of photo practice.
From 1973 to 1990, Sultan and Mandel created a series of works that exploited the public spaces occupied by billboards to subvert the public’s perception and expectation of how these spaces are used. Under the enigmatic name Clatworthy Colorvues, they created open-ended and allusive designs that were then installed on outdoor advertising billboards in the San Francisco area—where they lived at the time—and other parts of the country.
Developed in workshops and with the input and assistance of graduate students, the billboards enabled them to reach a larger and more varied public than would ever find its way into the confined environments of established art institutions.
Larry Sultan grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, which became a source of inspiration for a number of his projects. His work blends documentary and staged photography to create images of the psychological as well as physical landscape of suburban family life. Sultan’s pioneering works include Pictures From Home (1992), a decade-long project that features his own mother and father as its primary subjects, exploring photography’s role in creating familial mythologies, and The Valley (2004), which examines the adult film industry and the area’s middle-class tract homes that serve as pornographic film sets. His work has been exhibited and published widely, and is included in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where he was also recognized with the Bay Area Treasure Award in 2005. Sultan served as a Distinguished Professor of Photography at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1946, Larry Sultan passed away at his home in Greenbrae, California in 2009.
Mike Mandel has been deeply engaged with photography since the early 1970s, using its changing tools to pursue projects that question the nature and uses of a medium too often taken at face value. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he worked with found photographs and film-based cameras to produce a highly conceptual series of books and exhibitions that revealed the inherent ambiguity of photographic images. Among these was Evidence, on which he collaborated with Larry Sultan. Mandel later became interested in public art and began producing photo-based, mosaic murals. Composed of thousands of colored tiles, which he compares to pixels, his murals adorn public spaces and buildings across America. His most recent book, published in 2010, is a collaborative effort with his wife, Chantal Zakari, entitled The State of Ata. In 2006, he was exhibited in the 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, “Of Mice and Men,” and in 2009 he exhibited in Art Basel, Switzerland, and Photo España, Madrid.
In 2012, the monograph, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel was published to examine in depth the thirty plus year collaboration between these artists as they tackled numerous conceptual projects together that includesBillboards, How to Read Music In One Evening, Newsroom, and the seminal photography book Evidence, a collection of found institutional photographs, first published in 1977.