b. 1969, Warsaw, New York
Justine Kurland rose to prominence in the late 1990s as part of a new generation of photographers. Lauded for her large-scale chromogenic prints that heeded to a pastoral romanticism, she is best known for her documentary-style compositions of American wilderness landscapes and their inhabiting fringe communities, both real and imagined. Kurland engages in a nomadic practice, photographing her subjects during cross-country journeys to reveal the double-edged nature of the American dream. She presents a reality where utopia and dystopia co-exist, not as polar opposites, but rather folded into one another in uneasy fashion. In the tradition of 19th-century landscape compositions, WPA photography,
Kurland’s earliest body of work presented stylized portraits of adolescent girl runaways, first shown in the crucial exhibition “Another Girl Another Planet” (1999) curated by Gregory Crewdson. Her “Of Women Born” series consisted of nude women, mostly mothers, some pregnant, others post-partum, from utopian communes throughout the US. By the early 2000s, her work shifted to include male subjects in marginalized communities. Her train series, which included theatrical portraits of vagabonds, consider the mystic nature of American folklore through these romantic depictions of tough and violent living. In “Sincere Auto Care,” exhibited at Mitchell-Innes & Nash in 2014, Kurland returned to a purely documentary style in the tradition of Walker Evans, exploring two competing narratives: the car as an aspirational symbol of freedom, sex, the American Dream, and the bleaker daily life behind the scenes.
Justine Kurland was born in 1969 in Warsaw, New York. She received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 1996 and her MFA from Yale University in 1998. Her work has been exhibited extensively at museums and galleries in the US and internationally. Her work has been the subject of important solo exhibitions at Artist’s Space, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; and Artspace, New Zealand. Museum exhibitions have included The Open Road, which traveled to Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Betonville, Detroit Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL; Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Role Models: Feminine Identity in Contemporary American Photography at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC; Recent Landscape Photography: The Intimate and the Sublime at St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis; Ideal Worlds at Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt; Strangers: ICP Triennial at International Center of Photography, New York; and Greater New York at MoMA PS1, New York.
All images © Justine Kurland
In Justine Kurland’s photograph, 76 Station, her young son Casper sits in a car seat in a truck, his face awash with a distance that might equate to either deep boredom or daydreaming (or perhaps he’s sleepy). Skinny knees to his chest, he stares out the front window—the car seat is on the passenger side. It’s a moment not only unprompted but profoundly personal; if it were set up (it wasn’t), it wouldn’t make a difference. Kurland’s photographed landscapes and characters always read this way: she has captured them organically, even if she assisted in creating the narrative. Photography that toes a line between documentary work and fine art may intrinsically contain half-truths, but that does not strip it of its sincerity, nor of its power. Kurland has carved out much of her career by finding the places and people she wanted to know; constantly traveling, her photographs of train-hoppers, the American west, and men or young women in the wilderness, are all of spaces and places she might not have belonged to initially, but came to know through a wonder that feels pure.Ravelin Magazine
Between Thursday and Saturday, over 150 exhibitions opened in New York, and so, this past weekend, overcoming my social anxieties about being around so many people after a quieter summer and knowing everyone else would look just as shell-shocked from the close contact, I ventured into the trenches of autumn. My own General Law of Quality has it that 85 percent of all shows are bad. I believe this Law is a constant, that 85 percent of the art made in the Renaissance was bad, too. What makes art so interesting is that your 85 percent of bad will be totally different from my 85 percent, all the way down the line. The good news about the first days of fall is that while many of the shows might be meh, none were egregious. And while space and deadlines don't allow me to cover shows that opened on the Lower East Side on Sunday, that day in that neighborhood was wonderful and felt for that moment like the art world belonged to the art world again (more on those shows later this week).Download PDF Vulture
For more than a decade, Justine Kurland has taken photographs during annual cross-country journeys from New York to the Pacific Northwest that reveal the double-edged nature of the American dream. A lifelong nomad (she grew up traveling to Renaissance festivals, where her mother sold hand-sewn clothes), her tools are her 4×5 camera and her van, which allow her to dwell, briefly, in the worlds of the marginal figures she photographs. First, there were the girls she cast as runaways, forging into forests and swimming holes. Later came images of commune members in wilderness idylls and panoramas of westbound freighters and the hobos who ride them.Download PDF T Magazine
Justine Kurland poignantly discusses her memories of her father, both the artist and the man.
THIS LONG CENTURY is an ever-evolving collection of personal insights from artists, authors, filmmakers, musicians and cultural icons the world over. Bringing together such intimate work as sketchbooks, personal memorabilia, annotated typescripts, short essays, home movies and near impossible to find archival work, THIS LONG CENTURY serves as a direct line to the contributers themselves.This Long Century
The celebration of motherhood hasn't been a favored subject for artists since Impressionism and the early-twentieth century movements on which its influence is immediately discernable.Download PDF
It's difficult when you have a kid," the photographer Justine Kurland said. "If they're in a good mood, you can get work done. But if they're in a bad mood, you're at their mercy." Ms. Kurland is known for photographing people in American wilderness landscapes, but the scene this day was the rent-stabilized apartment she shares with Casper, her 2-year-old son, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.Download PDF
In new works at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in Chelsea, naked mothers and children roam along blustery coasts and through forests, imbuing the rough settings with an idyllic grace. "Having a baby has thrown me back to something knowable only to women, a certain immediacy and connectedness to this little being and by extension to many other beings," Kurland explains.Download PDF
In her show "Songs of Experience," Justine Kurland offered a world of enchantment--outside the bounds of time and convention. The setting was a forest, pictured in dramatic large-scale Cibachrome prints, her first landscapes without people.Download PDF