The Secret, Alachua, FL by Photographer Michael Bühler-Rose

By on May 17th, 2024 in The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins Museum of Art, The Collection at Rollins Museum of Art
On a dirt road two women whisper in the foreground while more people stand by and lean on a white car in the background
Michael Bühler-Rose (American, b. 1980) The Secret, Alachua, FL, 2006
Archival pigment print
40 x 50 in.
The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Rollins Museum of Art. Gift of Barbara ’68 and Theodore ’68 Alfond, 2013.34.13. Image courtesy of the artist and Carroll and Sons, Boston.

Cultural Exchange and Orientalism

Cultural exchange takes many forms—it can be the taste of an exotic food or the feel of a silken textile. It can mean going somewhere distant or finding something unfamiliar close to home. For 19th-century Europeans discovering the Orient via colonialism, the experience of another culture came couched in a vibrant visual language of rich color and sumptuous textures. Ingres, Delacroix, and Gérôme all produced seductive canvases inspired by visions of Morocco and the Near East. But that version of the Orient has since been exposed as a figment of artistic imagination, most notably by Edward Said in his book Orientalism (1978), which showed that our images of another culture may ultimately tell us more about ourselves.

Michael Buhler-Rose

The photographs of Michael Bühler-Rose further complicate our experience of the “Other.” While the Europeans held their exotic models at a distance, locating them in unfamiliar lands so as to protect the integrity of their own identity, Bühler-Rose invites them into Floridian living rooms and backyards. Deliberately creating a surprising juxtaposition of expected and unexpected elements, his images cast women from the Indian subcontinent as characters in a portrait of the American everyday.

The Secret, Alachua, FL

In The Secret, Alachua, FL (2006), five women, dressed in the bright saris and gold bangles of traditional Indian costume, cluster in the dirt driveway of a suburban home. The composition suggests Bühler-Rose’s familiarity with painterly Orientalism: the figures are carefully posed so as to occupy discrete planes of foreground, middle ground, and background. Patches of light lead our eye through the scene, much as we would experience in a landscape painting.

On a dirt road two women whisper in the foreground while more people stand by and lean on a white car in the background

Bühler-Rose finds the utterly familiar in the visibly “Other,” and in turn encourages us to recognize the difference that resides within the quotidian. His images expand our sense of what cultural exchange might mean—recognizing that something as simple as a secret whispered between two friends constitutes a poignant form of dialogue.

View this work in person at The Alfond Inn in Winter Park, FL through July 2024.

Art for Rollins: The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Rollins Museum of Art Book Series

This excerpt by Kelly Presutti is from Art for Rollins: The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art book series. Each volume features full color images and texts of works in the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, at the Rollins Museum of Art. Included in Volume II are acquisitions of works by 47 artists including María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Rosemarie Castoro, Melvin Edwards, Charline von Heyl, David Hockney, William Kentridge, Trevor Paglen, Thomas Scheibitz, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jack Whitten, among others.

Get your copy in the Museum Shop at The Rollins Museum of Art in Winter Park, Florida.

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