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Photographs profiling site of manufacturing innovation on view at the Princeton University Art Museum
Michael Kenna, British, born 1953, The Rouge, Study 113, Dearborn, Michigan, 1994, printed 2016. Gelatin silver print. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Mary Trumbull Adams Art Fund. © Michael Kenna.

PRINCETON, NJ.- A selection of photographs from Michael Kenna’s Rouge series forms an exhibition that underscores the site’s legacy in U.S. and world history. The exhibition, curated by James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director, is on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through Feb. 11, 2018. The Princeton University Art Museum is the only institution to hold a complete set of the Rouge series, which is available in its entirety online for the first time on the Museum’s website.

“Michael Kenna’s compelling Rouge series is an extraordinary artistic achievement, and its exhibition a timely reminder of what was once the world’s most advanced industrial site,” said Steward. “As the sole museum with the entire Rouge suite, we take seriously the responsibility of making them publicly available.”

Kenna has long been acclaimed as one of the most important landscape photographers working today, and is best known for lyrical black-and-white images made under natural light conditions. Often captured at dawn or dusk, or long exposures made at night, his images can be understood as heir to the Pictorialist tradition. Kenna’s work with industrial and postindustrial landscapes is among his most sustained investigations.

Kenna’s photographs of the Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan – once the most advanced industrial complex in the world and an icon of U.S. manufacturing might – were made beginning in 1992, initially as an homage to photographer Charles Sheeler’s images of the site. Kenna worked under often-extreme conditions at the complex in order to carry out the long exposures that enable his signature atmospheric effects.

The 2,000-acre Rouge plant in southeastern Michigan, named for the river that borders it on one side, was developed by Henry Ford and the architect Albert Kahn to be the most advanced “ore to assembly” manufacturing complex in history. Since 1918 it has produced boats, tractors, cars and trucks. During World War II it was a key contributor to the war effort and to Detroit’s status as “The Arsenal of Democracy.”

The exhibition presents 40 images from the series – one-third of the total – that speak to what Kenna has called the “memories, traces and evidence of our human activities” at this once-pioneering site. It has been organized as a companion to the Museum’s major traveling exhibition Clarence H. White and His World: The Art & Craft of Photography, 1895–1925, featuring the vision and legacy of one of the fathers of Pictorialism – reasserting him as a leader in the early twentieth-century effort to position photography as an art.

A related publication, Michael Kenna: Rouge (Prestel, 2016), prompted by the artist’s recent additions to the original series, includes an introduction by the curator.

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