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Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows

Exhibition Dates:  Thursday, April 4, 2013 – Sunday, June 16, 2013

A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Piecing together Vivian Maier’s life can easily evoke Churchill’s famous quote about the vast land of Tsars and commissars that lay to the east.  She was a person who fit the stereotypical European sensibilities of an independent liberated woman, accent and all, yet born in New York City. Someone who was intensely guarded and private, Vivian could be counted on to feistily preach her own very liberal worldview to anyone who cared to listen, or didn’t.  Decidedly unmaterialistic, Maier would come to amass a group of storage lockers stuffed to the brim with found items, art books, newspaper clippings, home films, as well as political tchotchkes and knick-knacks.  The story of this nanny who has now wowed the world with her photography, and who incidentally recorded some of the most interesting marvels and peculiarities of Urban America in the second half of the twentieth century, is seemingly beyond belief.

An American of French and Austro-Hungarian extraction, Vivian bounced between Europe and the United States before coming back to New York City in 1951.  Having picked up photography just two years earlier, she would comb the streets of the Big Apple refining her artistic craft.  By 1956 Vivian left the East Coast for Chicago, where she’d spend most of the rest of her life working primarily as a nanny and later as a caregiver.  During both working hours and leisure, Maier would shoot photos that she zealously hid from the eyes of others.  Taking snapshots into the late 1990′s, Maier would leave behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives.  Additionally, Vivian’s passion for documenting extended to a series of homemade documentary films and audio recordings. Interesting bits of Americana, the demolition of historic landmarks for new development, the unseen lives of ethnics and the destitute, as well as some of Chicago’s most cherished sites were all meticulously catalogued by Vivian Maier.

A free spirit but also a proud soul, Vivian Maier became poor towards the end of her life and was ultimately saved by three of the children she had cared for earlier in her life. Fondly remembering Maier as a second mother, they pooled money together to pay for an apartment and took care of her in the best way they could.  Unbeknownst to them, five of Vivian’s storage lockers was auctioned off due to delinquent payments.  In those storage lockers lay the massive hoard of the negatives and photographs Maier had secretly stashed throughout her lifetime.

Maier’s massive, never before seen, and completely unknown body of work would come to light when in 2007 when the contents of her 5 storage lockers were publicly sold at an auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side.  From there, the work would go viral and would eventually impact the world over.  Presently, the collection resides in the hands of three collectors.  The works being presently exhibited at FMOPA and those used for the book, Vivian Maier, Out of the Shadows, are exclusive from the Jeffrey Goldstein Collection (vivianmaierphotography.com).  The Goldstein collection consists of almost 20,000 negatives and prints taken from 1949 through the early ’70s.

Currently, Vivian Maier’s body of work is being archived and cataloged for the enjoyment of others and for future generations. Vivian Maier’s work is part of a renaissance in interest in the art that comes from an era of darkrooms and film and the timeless images captured in a manner unique to the medium.