Joel Sternfeld: American Prospects
Sep 28, 2023 – Jan 21, 2024

Joel Sternfeld, The Space Shuttle Columbia Lands at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, March 1979

“All of my work has been about ideas of utopia and dystopia. I think that’s what gives America interest. It’s many things all at once. It’s such a complicated society.”

Joel Sternfeld

Born of a desire to follow the seasons up and down America, and equally to find lyricism in contemporary American life despite all its dark histories, American Prospects has enjoyed a life of acclaim. Its pages are filled with unexpected excitement, despair, tenderness and hope. Its fears are expressed in beauty, its sadnesses in irony. Oddly enough, the society it seems to presage has now come to be; oddly enough, the ideas of this book bespeak our present moment.

 

Joel Sternfeld, Glen Canyon Dam, Page, Arizona

Joel Sternfeld, Bikini contest, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, March 1983

Joel Sternfeld, After A Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California 1979

Joel Sternfeld, Portage Glacier, Alaska, July 1984

Joel Sternfeld, Canyon Country, California, June 1983

Joel Sternfeld, Car Sleeping

Often out of print, this new edition of Joel Sternfeld’s seminal book returns to the format of the original 1987 edition. All of the now classic images within it – alongside a group of never published photographs – examine a once pristine land stewarded by indigenous peoples who needed no lessons in stewardship, and a land now occupied by a mix of peoples hoping for salvation within the fraught paths of late capitalism. The result suggests a vast nation whose prospects have much to do with global prospects, a “teenager of the world” unaware of its strengths, filled with idealism and frequent failings. These pictures see all but judge not.

 

Joel Sternfeld, A Blind Man in His Garden, Homer, Alaska, June 1984

Joel Sternfeld, Wet n Wild Aquatic Theme Park, Orlando, Florida, September 1980

Joel Sternfeld, Woodside, California, 1988

Joel Sternfeld, Tent City, Houston, Texas, January 1983

Joel Sternfeld, McLean, Virginia, December 1978

Joel Sternfeld, Minihouse

Joel Sternfeld numbers among the most important protagonists of the New Color Photography movement, which discovered color for art photography in the 1970s. Sternfeld has spent years traveling around the United States as a critical observer, documenting the country and its inhabitants in all their idiosyncrasies and contradictions. His grandiose series American Prospects (1978–86) focuses on how human beings relate to the American landscape – a landscape they’ve helped to shape. In addition to exposing a natural world subject to economic exploitation and threatened by accumulating ecological damage, the frequently whimsical everyday scenes captured by Sternfeld in this series also permit inferences as to the sociopolitical conditions of that era. American Prospects is part of a major donation to the Albertina Museum by the artist himself, and the present exhibition presents a first-ever survey of these donated works.

 

Joel Sternfeld, A Kickapoo Man in Eagle Pass, Texas, January 1983

Joel Sternfeld, Abandoned Motel, Location Unknown, Date Unknown

Joel Sternfeld, Beverly Hills, California, May 1979

Joel Sternfeld, Member of the Christ Family Religious Sect, Hidalgo County

Joel Sternfeld, Swift River, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, July 1980

Joel Sternfeld,Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Washington, D.C., May 1986

“You take 35 degrees out of 360 degrees and call it a photo. No individual photo explains anything. That’s what makes photography such a wonderful and problematic medium.”

–Joel Sternfeld

Joel Sternfeld is an artist-photographer whose work is concerned with utopic and dystopic possibilities of the American experience. Ever since the publication of his landmark study, American Prospects in 1987 his work has maintained conceptual and political aspects, while also being steeped in history, art history, landscape theory and attention to seasonal passage. It is a melancholic, spectacular, funny and profound portrait of America. The curator Kevin Moore has claimed that the work embodies the “synthetic culmination of so many photographic styles of the 1970s, incorporating the humor and social perspicacity of street photography with the detached restraint of New Topographics photographs and the pronounced formalism of works by so many late-decade colorists” (Kevin Moore, Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970–1980).

 

Joel Sternfeld: American Prospects
September 28, 2023 – January 21, 2024 / Albertina Museum, Wien, Austria
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