I definitely never took my hometown for granted, but moving to Oregon, made me realize just how spoiled I was living in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has so many museums and galleries putting on quality exhibitions. The Annenberg Space for Photography is one of my favorite art spaces in Southern California.
A few weeks ago, we had a very short, last-minute trip to Los Angeles and I saw an opportunity to see Generation Wealth, the latest exhibition at The Annenberg Space for Photography. Generation Wealth is famed photographer and filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield's exploration of our culture's obsession with wealth. Greenfield spent over twenty-five years examining wealth and our obsession with brands and image. Her exploration is not limited to the United States, she includes subjects from many other countries, including Russia and China.
The first part of the exhibition includes a thirty-minute introductory video. Although it's possible to skip this, I highly recommend the video. It provides a background for Greenfield's interest in the subject, including a mention of her documentary The Queen of Versailles, about David and Jackie Siegel's quest to build the biggest mansion in America. If you've not seen The Queen of Versailles, I highly recommend that you rent it. It was surprisingly heart-felt and relatable.
Greenfield explores a very complicated and emotional subject. No matter where you fall on the wealth spectrum, everyone is affected to some extent. Even if you're not purchasing spendy cars or handbags, you do have an opinion on brands, you're swayed by advertising, and you're concerned with image. It's easy to be judgmental, especially towards those with bigger budgets and bigger spending habits, but a majority of us still exhibit similar behavior, just perhaps on a smaller scale. The last part of the exhibition includes receipts from stores like Michael's Crafts, Target, and Petco; that give a strong impression of how it is so easy to overspend at stores that are not luxury brands. My take-away being, why is it okay to judge the person with the Channel handbag and not the person who builds a decked out craft room? Where are your spending sins? Maybe we should spend more time enjoying what we have, whether it's material or non-material things, and less time wanting or feeling envy.
Spending and image creating is like running on a treadmill: happiness is elusive. Greenfield looks at the psychology of spending, the momentary rush as you purchase a new object, but how quickly that excitement fades. Along with money, Greenfield examines body image and the obsession our culture has with both youth and perfection. Generation Wealth includes some very hard to view pictures of plastic surgery. We are a culture of dissatisfaction. What has to occur to shift the tide?
An answer might come Iceland, where Greenfield followed a banker who lost everything with the financial crisis. When he was working as a banker, he was stressed and worked so many hours that he was not able to spend time with his family. His career rebound was to go into fishing, a trade that had been in his family, and although his financial situation changed, he found that he was much happier. He commented that he felt that beyond his family, he was getting back to a greater sense of his community, spending time with his neighbors. On this same subject, Greenfield documented an extremely wealthy family in Russia. They live in a armed and gated mansion, secluded from neighbors. The wife mentioned feeling lonely. She is home, raising her toddler, but unlike her own childhood, she is without friends. Her daughter does not play with other children. It's almost like she is like she is a precious object in a museum. Although this woman being kept in a mansion is an extreme example, I feel that as a culture we are moving towards isolation, simply with the way we close ourselves off when spending time with our electronics. It's so depressing when you see couples or even whole families at restaurants, but they are all glued to their devices.
Speaking of the financial crisis, Greenfield had anticipated that she would see a shift in spending after the crash. Although many people did suffer by losing their homes and other financial misfortunes, the general culture attitude is to double-down on money and image. She saw an uptick in the way people put pressure on themselves to spend money to maintain the facade of wealth.
One of the more bizarre parts of the exhibition showed the way wealth is impacting China, including the popularity of etiquette classes. Chinese citizens pay upwards of twenty grand to learn western etiquette. In the introductory video, a glimpse into these classes is show and we learn the proper way to eat a banana. I'd be willing to bet that no one I know actually eats a banana this way, using a knife to slice a banana peel in a slick maneuver than is akin to skinning a fish, and then slicing the banana flesh into small pieces to be eaten with a fork. It's fussy! Maybe since I'm not upper class, I'm not privy to this fancy way of eating a banana!
I left Generation Wealth feeling hyper-aware of what I value and where I find personal happiness. On the way out, we found an interactive exhibit, where you get a receipt with a fortune. Nothing sums up the vibe of Generation Wealth better than this =
Lauren Greenfield's Generation Wealth is at The Annenberg Space for Photography until August 13, 2017. The exhibition is located in Century City, right across from the Westfield Shopping Center. I didn't even think about the irony of the proximity of the mall, until writing this, but I don't think that the stores are getting much business from anyone who has recently visited Generation Wealth. The good news is, the exhibition is free ( no excuse not to go) and the nearby parking is cheap!