Pictures and Promises

February 20, 2021 - September 6, 2021

O Zhang, We are all the Future of the Earth, 2008, inkjet print, Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of the Artist

Drawn from the Vancouver Art Gallery’s rich photographic holdings, Pictures and Promises focuses on lens-based works that employ the structures, conventions and formal qualities used in mass media, fashion and advertising. The works then deploy these strategies to play on collective understandings of the world around us and to investigate the iconography of consumerism. Given advertising’s shift from denotative to connotative meaning, both artistic and commercial production have created chains of signification to imply meaning that surpasses the work or object itself.

The title of this exhibition directly references the 1981 exhibition of the same name: Pictures and Promises: A Display of Advertisings, Slogans and Interventions, curated by artist Barbara Kruger. On view at the Kitchen Center for Video and Music in New York from January 8 to February 5, 1981, the exhibition combined advertisements, television commercials, posters, commercial photography and corporate signage with works of art, proposing that the ways in which “artists have chosen to engage the codes of advertising aesthetics suggests the ease of popular visual language.” Due to the inherent relationship between photography and reproduction, lens-based works are uniquely positioned to make visible the representation and repetition reinforced by the commercial realm. By discreetly or overtly conjuring commercial advertising, artists in this exhibition offer an analysis of the ways in which images function in society and that meaning is created and disseminated.

As Capture Photography Festival’s Featured Exhibition for 2021, Pictures and Promises focuses predominantly on lens-based works by a diverse range of artists, both local and international, historical and contemporary.

Featured artists include Vikky Alexander, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Roy Arden, Robert Arndt, Eugène Atget, Carl Beam, Harry Callahan, Audrey Capel Doray, Hannah Collins, Hendrick Dahl, Diane Evans, Walker Evans, Charles Gagnon, Lorraine Gilbert, Douglas Gordon, Gu Xiong,  Richard Hamilton, Salmon Harris, Fred Herzog, Allen Jones, Barbara Kruger, Ken Lum, Patricia McLaughlin, Eric Metcalfe, Yasumasa Moriumura, Oraf Orafsson, Dick Oulton, Richard Prince, Henri Robideau,  Cindy Sherman, Ron Terada, Philip Timms, John Vachon, Robert Walker, Andy Warhol and Zhang O.


Organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery in collaboration with Capture Photography Festival and co-curated by Grant Arnold, Audain Curator of British Columbia Art, and Emmy Lee Wall, Executive Director, Capture Photography Festival


  • Eric Metcalfe
    Howard Hughes Inc., 1977
    screenprint on paper
    Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
    Gift of Maryon and Jack Adelaar

  • Lorraine Gilbert
    Untitled (from Vancouver-Montreal Night Works), 1982–86
    chromogenic print
    Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
    Gift of the Artist

  • Ken Lum
    Steve, 1986
    chromogenic print on acrylic sheet
    Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery
    Acquisition Fund


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