R. J. Kern - The Unchosen Ones

May 21, 2022 - Jul 2, 2022

Opening Day - Saturday, May 21st - 11am-7pm

Artist Present 4-7pm

On view through July 2

Free and open to the public

R. J. Kern – The Unchosen Ones features a selection of photographs from the series of the same name, presented in archival pigment prints, tintypes and toned silver gelatin prints.

“In 2016, I made portraits of youth contestants at Minnesota county fairs. Each participant—some as young as four years old— had spent a year raising an animal, which they entered into a 4-H livestock competition. None of the youths I photographed succeeded in winning an award, despite the obvious care they had given to their animals.

Four years later, in 2020, I returned to photograph the young people, asking them what they carried forward from their previous experience. Some of them have continued to pursue animal husbandry while others developed other interests. It is likely some of these kids will not choose to continue running their family farms—an unpredictable and demanding way of making a living.

As I created the second group of photographs, I asked them what were their thoughts, their dreams, and their goals for the future? How would they fit into the future of agricultural America?

The Unchosen Ones depicts the bloom of youth and the mettle of the young people who grow up on farms, reminding us how resilient children can be when confronted with life’s inevitable disappointments. The formal quality of the lighting and setting endow these young people with a gravitas beyond their years, revealing self-directed dedication in some, and in others, perhaps, the pressures of traditions imposed upon them. The portraits capture a particular America, a rural pastoral world, and a time in life when the layered emotions of youth are laid bare.” – R. J. Kern

R. J. Kern (b. 1978) is an American artist whose work investigates ideas of home, ancestry, and a sense of place. His portraits focus on intimate, interdependent relationships of people, animals, and landscape as a means of exploring how ancestry shapes identity and how myth intertwines with personal history. His camera has led him from an inquiry into his lineage in the farming communities of Scandinavia and Ireland to the examination of similar communities near his home in Minnesota. Increasingly, his attention has been captured by the next generation of young people, who may or may not be the stewards of rural communities and economies in the future.

Inspired by master landscape painters of the 19th-century, Kern embraces the heightened expressivity of natural and artificial lighting techniques. To draw sharper connections between traditional and modern farming routines, he adopts both historical and current photographic processes. While illuminating the ephemeral beauty of youth, Kern probes the current realities of agrarian practices, aspiring to enhance awareness and interest in the changing face of American pastoral life.

His work has been exhibited in a number of notable exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art (Tbilisi, Georgia), the National Portrait Gallery (London, UK), the Yixian International Photography Festival (Anhui, China), and solo exhibitions at the Griffin Museum of Photography (Boston, MA) and the Plains Art Museum (Fargo, ND). Kern’s work and books have been exhibited at art fairs such as Paris Photo and Classic Photographs LA, as well as at galleries nationwide, most recently Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, Burnet Fine Art & Advisory in Minneapolis, and Afterimage Gallery in Dallas.

Accolades include PDN’s 30 2018, Critical Mass Top 50 in 2018 and 2021, CENTER 2017 Choice Award Winner (Curator’s Choice, First Place), the 2017 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize (Finalist), and three Artist Initiative Grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board (2016, 2018, 2020). He was the Commemorative Artist for the 2019 Minnesota State Fair.

Kern's work has been presented in a number of publications, including a feature in National Geographic (November 2017). Kern published his first monograph with Kehrer Verlag titled, The Sheep and the Goats, awarded one of “The Most Beautiful German Books 2018” by Stiftung Buchkunst and awarded Bronze by the prestigious Deutscher Fotobuchpreis 2018-19. His second monograph, The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral, (MW Editions, 2021) was listed as a 2021 Top 10 Favorite Photobook by What You Will Remember.

Selected collections holding his work include: Center for Creative Photography (Tucson, AZ), Center for Photography at Woodstock (Woodstock, NY), Fidelity Corporate Art Collection (Boston, MA), Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA), Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art (Tarpon Springs, FL), General Mills Corporate Collection (Minneapolis, MN), Minneapolis Institute of Art (Minneapolis, MN), Plains Art Museum (Fargo, ND), Masur Museum of Art ( Monroe, LA), Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, MN), Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX), and Museum of Fine Arts (St. Petersburg, FL).