Milwaukee Art Museum Celebrates Photography of 'The Open Road'

Feb 8, 2018

Americans have been fond of the road trip for as long as roads came to existence. But there was a time when to see pictures of your friends’ road trips, you had to sit in their den or basement rec room and watch a slideshow or flip through a photo album.

Of course, today we see our friends’ photos 24 hours a day on their social media feeds, and what counts as a “road trip” could be a trip to the Grand Canyon or a quick dash to the 7-Eleven.  An exhibit that recently opened at the Milwaukee Art Museum offers viewers a chance to see how the Great American Road Trip was envisioned and captured by some great photographers, both American and from overseas. 

Ariel Pate, the assistant photography curator at the art museum, explains why she thought it was important to bring The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip exhibit to Milwaukee: "It's an interesting show because it takes the road trip as a seminal point in American photography and it's a great overview of photographic history (1955-on), but through one particular lens. We're really excited to bring it to our audiences because it's a really approachable subject - everybody's been on a road trip."

Justine Kurland, Claire, 8th Ward, 2012 New York
Credit © Justine Kurland / Courtesy Mitchell-Innes and Nash Gallery

London-based photography writer David Campany is the co-curator of The Open Road exhibit. "I was struck by the fact that even if you're not looking at road trips and you're just looking at American photography - it's surprising how much of the very best American photography happened to be made on road trips," he says.

Denise Wolf, the other co-curator who is based at New York’s Aperture Foundation, adds that much of America's great photos are on the road "because there is that sense of motion and the metaphor for progress in America, but it's being captured by a still medium."

"You don't get accidental masterpieces in oil painting...in symphonic composition, but you do in photography - you really do," Campany adds.

The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip is on display through April 22 at the Milwaukee Art Museum.