SEVENTIES: PHOTOGRAPHS by BILL OWENS AT THE SAN JOSE MUSEUM OF
by Kathleen Lang
Nestled in the heart
of downtown San Jose next to the Fairmont Hotel, you will find
two buildings merged together-- one old and one new. It may not
be the most esthetically pleasing combination, but somehow it
works and also functions as a metaphor for the San Jose Museum
The older building
was the original museum and now houses the Museum Café and Museum
Store. Linked to the Historic Wing is the modern addition with
a large red banner proclaiming its identity. The museum, like
the city it is located, strives to define itself by looking forward
and yet acknowledging its past.
to Historic Wing
The exhibits we viewed
on our recent visit certainly reflect this blending of past and
There were two primary
exhibits available on the day we visited the San Jose Museum of
to the American Landscape. Selections from the Whitney Museum
of American Art, June 6, 1999 - June 11, 2000.
This is the fourth
in a series of large-scale exhibitions in collaboration with the
Whitney Museum that focuses on twentieth-century American Art.
Many artists, movements,
and styles combine in this exhibit to articulate the diversity
of the American landscape. Not to be missed is Edward Hopper's
Railroad Sunset, 1929. The isolated train outpost building provides
a stark contrast to a most spectacular sunset.
While we were interested
in seeing the Surrounding's exhibit, we were even more excited
about the other featured exhibit. The Suburban Seventies: Photographs
by Bill Owens, January 23 - April 2, 2000.
THE SUBURBAN SEVENTIES:
PHOTOGRAPHS by BILL OWENS
Open spaces, new home
developments, Tupperware parties, big hair curlers, pant suits,
bad hair, drinking, and hot tub parties. These are just some of
the images seen in the photographs of Bill Owens that define an
era. At times funny, poignant, or uncomfortable, Owens' photographs
can be understood as a mirror to our not-so distant past.
"I enjoy giving
a Tupperware party in my home. It gives me a chance to talk to
my friends. But really, Tupperware is a homemaker's dream, you
save time and money because your food keeps longer."
(c) Bill Owens
"My hobby is drinking.
On the weekends I enjoy getting together with my friends and boozing."
(c) Bill Owens
The photographs seen
in this exhibit were taken in 1972 and were published a year later
in a book called "Suburbia." At the time of publication only a
year had passed and many of Owens' images of the American Dream
in the new housing sprawl of the Livermore Valley (California)
would not have the resonance and perspective they now possess.
"We don't have
(c) Bill Owens
We may be amused by
the tackiness of the dated clothes and hairstyles, but there is
a powerful and intriguing sense of optimism that permeates all
these photographs. Owens has somehow more than merely entered
and photographed his subjects' homes-he has also managed to permeate
and capture the people themselves.
"We're really happy.
Our kids are healthy, we eat good food, and we have a really nice
(c) Bill Owens
The people who attended
the museum on the day we visited seemed to thoroughly enjoy the
exhibit. Whether they laughed loudly or closely examined the many
of the details of the pictures, everyone really seemed to understand
and connect with the people captured on film. While looking at
one of the photographs, a fellow viewer laughed and said to us:
" It's amazing how he (Owens) captures the person. It's almost
like he's their best buddy."
This comment represents
the intriguing quality of these images. It is hard to understand
why they would have been originally published only a year after
they were taken. After all, there would be little, if any, perspective
to fully understand who these individuals are. But almost thirty
years later the effect is quite different. We are now able to
recognize that regardless of the era, people are people. There
will always be a deep desire to carve out one's own piece of the
Art a GoGo's Interview with Bill Owens
Because the building
itself is smaller, there are fewer exhibits and less emphasis
on the museum's permanent collection. This can make your experience
less daunting because you will actually be more motivated to take
the time to see all the exhibits. The galleries are spacious and
well-lit and were not too crowded on the day we visited. We felt
unrushed as we took a leisurely pace through the galleries.
Not to be missed is
the site-specific installation seen through the back doors in
the museum foyer. "Burnt Patch," 1995 by Andy Goldsworthy consists
of arranged pine sticks with a charred center. It may look haphazard
but remember that each stick has been carefully placed by the
artist. We wondered what would happen to all those sticks on a
very windy day…
Perhaps the best day
to visit the San Jose Museum of Art is the first Thursday of each
month…it's FREE! Regardless of when you visit, you can plan a
picnic in nearby Caesar Chavez Park or have lunch or dinner at
one of the many restaurants that are close to the museum.
For more details, visit
the San Jose Museum of Art web
"Suburbia" by Bill Owens!
Suburbia by Bill Owens
(Photographer), Robert Harshorn Shimshak (Editor), David Halberstam
Availability: Usually ships within 24 hours.
Hardcover - 120 pages (November 2, 1999) Fotofolio; ISBN: 1881270408
; Dimensions (in inches): 0.65 x 10.25 x 10.23