© Bill Owens
Spring 1972, Bay Area, California : a young photographer is starting out on what was to become one of the photographic projects of greatest influence on the 20th-century collective imagination.
30th May 2012, Isola Neighbourhood, Milan : 40 years after that unforgettable experience, AREA LINA ovunqueartecontemporanea will dedicate its first monographic show to the "Suburbia" cycle of works by Bill Owens, one of the greatest post-war American photographers. This will be only the beginning of a series of celebrations commemorating this 40th anniversary, with a number of international exhibitions in various cities.
AREA LINA ovunqueartecontemporanea is a new mobile exhibition project, with no fixed place, directed by Gianmaria Conti, which will feature an annual programme of exhibitions on contemporary art and photography, to be hosted in an ever-changing range of spaces, both in Italy and abroad. Following the experience of other international exhibition practices, the chosen spaces are normally used for other purposes, or have fallen into disuse. In this specific case, it is an unused art&craft laboratory in the Isola neighbourhood of Milan. The area around the Garibaldi Railway Station, is in fact home to wide-ranging social and urban planning transformations; similar to that which took place in the San Francisco Bay Area between the end of World War II and the ‘80s, with the foundation of the famous ‘Levitt Towns’ described in Owens’s images.
© Bill Owens, Suburbia series, 1970/1972 - untitles (Regan on tv), 1972
The exhibition will feature a selection of more than 50 images by the most relevant works from Suburbia. Those images which made Bill Owens the photographer of the American Way of Life in the ‘70s and ‘80s, of that lifestyle which was to become the symbolic and cultural benchmark for the rest of the world. Neighbours, friends, relatives, teachers, pupils and shopkeepers are just some of the characters in this new depiction of American society which the artist pieces together in his fresco.
Owens deploys a kind of ‘visual anthropology’ through the inescapable urgency of need. We must acknowledge a lot more to this artist than merely his photographs, for just like those on the Normandy Invasion by Robert Capa or those on the Great Depression of the ‘30s by Walker Evans, his are the conceptual tools, the visual references and panoramas through which we may imagine and get to know that particular universe of sense, that way of living and structuring society that typified the urbanization of the West Coast of the United States at that time.
Cinema, architecture, sociology and politics all owe some of their language to the topics and images of Bill Owens. Sofia Coppola, David Byrne and Martin Parr are but a few of the artists whose imagery is declaredly inspired by Owens’s photography.
© Bill Owens, Leisure : Americans at play series, 1973/1980, volleyball, 1977
Bill Owens was born in 1938 in San Josè, California, and rose to fame in 1972 thanks to Suburbia and a number of other monographic publications on the customs of the American middle class. A collector of folk art and Pop memorabilia, he is keen on food, classic cars, and for many years he has been editor of American Brewer, a magazine dedicated to the brewing industry. Owens was one of the first photography artists to be awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. His works have been exhibited throughout the world.
His main exhibitions include those at the San Francisco MOMA; San Josè Museum of Art; Salon de la Photo, Paris; Centre Photographic de l’Ile de France; Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco; Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle; Howard Greenberg and Matthew Marks Galleries, New York; Eyestorm Gallery, London; Photo Espana, Madrid; International Center for Photography, New York; the Carla Sozzani Gallery, Milan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; James Cohan Gallery, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Vignette : © Bill Owens