Thursday, August 11, 2022 (San Francisco, CA) — Beginning October 13, The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) will present Gillian Laub: Family Matters, a solo exhibition that presents the saga of an American family. Through a series of more than 60 photographs and an accompanying audio guide that are at times hopeful, anguished, intimate, and funny, the exhibition captures photographer Gillian Laub’s documentation of the emotional, psychological, and political landscape of her family.
Family Matters, which originated at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York, explores the way in which intense intergenerational bonds have shaped and nurtured Laub, but have also been fraught. Through this body of work Laub turns both a loving and critical lens on her growing discomfort with the many beliefs and extravagances that marked her family’s lives. Curated by David Campany, ICP’s Curator-at-Large and Sara Ickow ICP’s Senior Manager of Exhibitions and Collections, and organized at The CJM by Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator, the exhibition will be on view through April 9, 2023.
For the last two decades, Gillian Laub’s photography has delved into topical complexity with a careful focus on community and human rights. Her work has included subjects ranging from terror survivors in the Middle East (Testimony, 2007) to racism in the American South (Southern Rites, 2015). Throughout her work she has used her camera to investigate how society’s most complex questions are often writ large in our most intimate relationships and spaces. With this exhibition she presents a series of photographs that she has been working on simultaneously for nearly 25 years, turning an eye to her own intimate relationships by documenting the emotional, psychological, and political landscape of her family. The original presentation of the exhibition coincides with the publication of a companion book by Aperture, Family Matters (2021). Much of the book’s text informed the immersive audio guide that accompanies the exhibition experience.
The exhibition is organized into four acts, with photographs dating from 1999–2020 that document Laub’s growing and changing relationship with her family. As the exhibition progresses, the images begin to reflect the unfolding of a deeply conflicted and polarized nation, as the artist and her parents find themselves on opposing sides of a sharp political divide—tearing at multigenerational family ties, and forcing everyone to ask what, in the end, really binds them together.
“This project is an exploration of the conflicted feelings I have about where I come from—which includes people I love and treasure, but with whom, most recently in a divided America, I have also struggled mightily,” said Gillian Laub. “It is made with the intention to accept as well as to challenge—both them and myself.”
“This exhibition is an intimate glimpse at the complex nature of family and of humanity, looking in particular at how difficult times—both personally and politically—can cause us to step back and evaluate the relationships that we hold closest to us,” said Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator at The CJM. “Laub is a master storyteller and this exhibition interrogates the meaning of her most intimate relationships with deep vulnerability and humor. Even with its specificity and singular point of view, Family Matters is universally relatable in its complicated depiction of family, whether biological or chosen, and serves as a microcosm for larger questions about human capacity for both conflict and resolution.”
In Act I of the exhibition, Laub captures some of her earliest portraits at family events—holidays, bar mitzvahs, brises, weddings, poolside barbecues, and vacations—such as her father carving the Thanksgiving turkey, or her grandparents and great aunt embarking on a dressy night out on the town. Act II shows how Laub begins to form her own family through marriage and children, and follows her as she loses relatives from the older generation. Images document Laub’s wedding arrangements, including wedding dress shopping and multiple family meetings with an imperious wedding planner.
A more marked shift comes in Act III, as Laub’s parents and other relatives enthusiastically support the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, while Laub is staunchly opposed, leading to heated political debates and exposing family fault lines. Images depict Laub’s nephew wearing a Trump rubber mask, and her father proudly wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap while golfing, as he encourages her to “learn to be less judgmental and more tolerant.” Act IV documents the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, racial violence, and an election—momentous world events that continue to divide the family, but also help to bring it back together. Laub’s parents drive for hours to deliver a cake and balloons to celebrate her quarantine birthday in 2020, peering through the sliding glass door for safety. In the lead up to the 2022 mid-term elections, this exhibition allows us to reflect on the political and ideological issues that can impact the relationships we treasure most, and how the choice to engage can open the door for meaningful dialogue and the possibility for change, even in the face of adversity.
Gillian Laub: Family Matters is organized by the International Center of Photography, New York, and has been made possible through the generous support of Marina and Andrew Lewin, Benrubi Gallery, and, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
For over thirty years The CJM has engaged audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. In 2008, The Museum opened a new building designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, providing a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in educational activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (“to life”), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.
Major support for The CJM is generously provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies; Bank of America; Gaia Fund; Grants for the Arts; Irving and Eleanor Jaffe Foundation; Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Joyce B. Linker; Alexandra O. Moses; The Bernard Osher Foundation; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Ruth S. Stein; and Roselyne C. Swig.