Penelope Umbrico at University of Toronto Art Centre

The gallery is pleased to announce Penelope Umbrico‘s current exhibition and project at the University of Toronto Art Centre, “Broken Steps and Haunted Scenes.” On view through May 30, 2015, the exhibition is presented in two separate but interrelated parts.

Says the institution:

Since the beginnings of photography, the camera has been used in service of a wide range of scientific pursuits, including medicine, physics, forensics, criminology, and botany. It has brought the news of the world and the glint of ice in a glass of whiskey. It has mapped every crater on the moon and spotted the Loch Ness Monster. None of this was done with the intentions of fine art, but contemporary artists have been deeply influenced by the tropes of vernacular photography.

The first part of the exhibition offers a look at the astonishing panoply of this photographic genre. Drawn from flea markets, personal albums, and private collections, the exhibition presents several coherent groupings of pictures, such as mugshots, insurance evidence, amateur self-portraits, psychic research, UFO sightings, and many others.

The second part presents a series of recent works by Toronto-native, New York-based artist Penelope Umbrico, who uses photographic imagery downloaded from the internet. Intimately involved with current vernacular photography, Umbrico employs traditional photographic techniques and methods of appropriation, extraction, multiple production, and intervention to explore how people, as a culture, make and use images. 

Together, the two parts of this exhibition present a certain arc across the history of vernacular photography. When culled from the proliferating archives—at the curatorial hand of the artist or the artistic hand of the curator—the compulsion toward photographic evidence that underpins this history comes up haunted by the vicissitudes of time, belief, prejudice, and ultimately, the betrayal of control and intention. 

Penelope Umbrico offers a radical reinterpretation of everyday consumer and vernacular images. Umbrico works “within the virtual world of consumer marketing and social media, traveling through the relentless flow of seductive images, objects, and information that surrounds us, searching for decisive moments—but in these worlds, decisive moments are cultural absurdities.”
She finds these moments in the pages of consumer product mail-order catalogs, travel and leisure brochures; and websites like Craigslist, EBay, and Flickr. Identifying image typologies—candy-colored horizons and sunsets, books used as props—brings the farcical, surreal nature of consumerism to new light.

Penelope Umbrico (born in Philadelphia, 1957) graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, and received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York. She has participated extensively in solo and group exhibitions, including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York. Umbrico is core faculty in the School of Visual Arts MFA Photography, Video, and Related Media Program. Selected public collections include the Guggenheim Museum (NY), International Center of Photography (NY), McNay Museum of Art (TX), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), Museum of Contemporary Photography (IL), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (CA), Museum of Modern Art (NY), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (CA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (CA), among others. She lives in New York City.

For more information about the artist or available works, please email

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