Critics’ Picks

Paul Druecke, untitled, n.d., C-print. From the series “A Social Event Archive,” 1997–2007.

Paul Druecke, untitled, n.d., C-print. From the series “A Social Event Archive,” 1997–2007.


Paul Druecke

Milwaukee Art Museum
700 N. Art Museum Drive
May 12–August 13, 2017

Paul Druecke’s series “A Social Event Archive,” 1997–2007, forms a typology of American social life—weddings and birthday parties, graduations and high school dances, baseball games, buffet lines, and card nights. Over the course of ten years, the artist solicited photographs by traveling door to door in his Milwaukee neighborhood, completing the project the year the iPhone was unleashed and photo albums dissipated into the digital. The result is 731 images that span the American Century, ranging from the monochrome print to the glossy color snapshot, the ceremoniously posed to the candid, in a celebration of the everyday.

Druecke’s crowd-sourced archive joins other encyclopedic surveys of daily life, such as August Sander’s “People of the Twentieth Century,” 1892–1954, or Ed Ruscha’s postwar gas stations and swimming pools. They all share a database aesthetic, in which the collection, endless and multiform, supersedes any narrative order and the meaning of the photograph lies in its status as excerpt.

The pictures here are sequenced by date of submission, rather than chronology, resulting in one long seam of a jumbled collective history, mostly displayed in cases that track the circumference of the gallery. The formal order of the line imposes a structure on what would otherwise seem fiercely arbitrary. The images are mysterious in the way that all photographs, once loosed from their original context, become surreal. It’s hard not to read the series as an elegy of sorts—for both the quaint materiality of the analog and, more poignantly in the age of extreme individualism, the social itself.