Monday July 25, 2011
Tags for: Brian Ulrich: Copia—Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001–11
  • Press Release

Brian Ulrich: Copia—Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001–11

exterior of the CMA building

Contemporary American photographer explores consumer culture in first museum exhibition

CLEVELAND (July 25, 2011) – The Cleveland Museum of Art presents the first major museum exhibition of contemporary photographer Brian Ulrich's work from a decade-long examination of the American consumer psyche in Copia—Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001-11. From the Latin word for "plenty," the artist's Copia series explores economic, cultural and political implications of commercialism and American consumer culture. The exhibition, featuring almost 60 photographs, will be on view from August 27, 2011 to February 26, 2012 in the museum's east wing photography galleries.

"Brian Ulrich has built a formidable reputation through his work, which is both visually powerful and technically accomplished," says C. Griffith Mann, Cleveland Museum of Art chief curator. "His photographs offer haunting images that explore the landscapes of American consumer culture. Ulrich's work invites us to contemplate the broader ecology of consumer culture, the interconnectedness of consumers, what they buy, and what they choose to leave behind."

The body of work in the exhibition, curated by Tom Hinson, the museum's curator emeritus, is divided into three parts: Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores. For the work included in the Retail phase (2001-06), Ulrich traveled extensively throughout the United States. He initially used a hand-held camera with the viewfinder at waist level, which allowed him to remain anonymous while documenting shoppers engrossed in navigating the abundance of goods found in vast enclosed malls and big-box stores. The second phase, Thrift (2005-08), focuses on thrift stores, the collecting places for discarded and unwanted consumer products, and its workers, as they tried to bring order to the vast amounts of donated, discarded and unwanted consumer products. The concluding group, Dark Stores (2008-11), features images in which Ulrich explores the impact of the 2008 financial crisis with haunting architectural landscapes of abandoned buildings and empty parking lots that have become commonplace in towns across America. Photographs from the Cleveland area are featured in the Retail and Dark Stores sections of the exhibition.

"I had to see if people were indeed patriotic shopping in response to the events on September 11th," says Brian Ulrich, photographer, referring to the beginning of his decade-long investigation. "Not only was it clear that this was the case, but standing in a big box store or shopping mall, I could see the entire trajectory of the 20th century economy and ideology playing out in the excess of goods and overwhelmed stares of the shoppers.

Ten years later, I hope that these photographs serve to add as a marker in which we can learn about our behaviors, habits, comforts and purpose."

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication titled Is This Place Great or What, comprised of the entire Copia series, including a statement from Brian Ulrich and an essay by Juliet B. Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, entitled Shopapalooza: The Boom and Bust of the Retail Economy. The catalogue is made available by the Cleveland Museum of Art and Aperture, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to promoting photography. Complementary exhibition programming including lectures, young professional events and films are planned. More programming information and details are available at

Copia—Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores, 2001-11 is free and is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. This exhibition is made possible by the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Foundation.

About Brian Ulrich
Born in 1971 in Northport, New York, Brian Ulrich received his BFA in photography from the University of Akron and his MFA in photography from Columbia College, Chicago. In between his 1996 undergraduate degree and his graduate studies, Ulrich worked for four years as an installation technician in the collections management division at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Ulrich's work has been featured in many national and international solo and group exhibitions beginning in 1996 and include: Dark Stores, Ghostboxes and Dead Malls, Galerie f5,6, Munich (2010); UBS 12 x 12: New Artists/New Work: Brian Ulrich, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2005); Made in Chicago, Photographs from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Collection, Mona Bismarck Foundation, Paris (2010); Variable Capital, Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool, United Kingdom (2008); and The New American Portrait, Jen Bekman Gallery, New York (2007).

Brian Ulrich's artwork is also included in the permanent collections of many notable institutions and organizations such as the Cleveland Museum of Art; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; New York Public Library; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Art Institute of Chicago; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Bidwell Projects, Peninsula, Ohio and Bank of America LaSalle Collection, Chicago among others.

Brian Ulrich has been the recipient of numerous awards, grants and fellowships such as John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (2009), Jack Jaffe Purchase Award, Chicago, Follett Fellowship, Columbia College, Chicago (2002) and most recently in 2010 was Artist–In–Residence, Light Work, Syracuse, New York.

Brian Ulrich now lives in Richmond, Virginia.

About the Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes more than 40,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. Currently undergoing an ambitious, multi-phase renovation and expansion project across its campus, the museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. One of the top five comprehensive art museums in the nation, and the only one that is free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the dynamic University Circle neighborhood.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has a membership of more than 21,500 households and is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit

Contact the Museum's Media Relations Team:
(216) 707-2261