The Last Cruze, a new body of work by artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, centers on the workers at the General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio. After more than fifty years of automobile production and a commitment to manufacture the Chevrolet Cruze until 2021, the facility was recently “unallocated” by GM. This comes as the company shifts more production overseas and directs more resources toward electric and autonomous vehicles. Employees in Lordstown have been faced with the difficult decision to voluntarily or involuntarily transfer to plants in other parts of the country. For many, this means uprooting or dividing their family, moving away from aging parents, or leaving behind their support networks and all they’ve ever known. Those who turn down a transfer are cut off from the company, losing their pensions and benefits.
In recent months, the plant has gone quiet and the workers’ lives were rerouted or put on hold as the UAW International union negotiates with the Big Three automakers—GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler. The current national contract expired on September 14, the day this exhibition opened. During this period of great uncertainty and change, Frazier has been in Lordstown with the workers and their families, recording their stories. Through images and interviews, Frazier conveys their experiences of the quickly developing events, the intense disruption to their lives and their community, and the strong efforts of the local union, UAW Local 1112, on their behalf.
The Last Cruze features over sixty photographs and other elements, presented within an installation that visually echoes the assembly line in the GM Lordstown Complex. With this work, Frazier introduces a major new chapter in her investigations of labor, family, community, and the working class across a variety of geographic settings—from her hometown of Braddock, Pennsylvania to Flint, Michigan to the Borinage mining region in Belgium. Frazier approaches her work as a platform for social justice, building on the long legacy of documentary photography in the US and beyond. In doing so, she adapts the methods of conceptual photographers in the 1960s and 70s that addressed urgent socio-political issues within everyday life.
The developments in Lordstown have brought widespread attention to the small Rust Belt town, which has emerged as a political flashpoint and been cited as symptomatic of shifting economic trends. Timely and nuanced, Frazier’s new work in Lordstown sets out to amplify the voices of the workers who are directly affected there. Frazier asks, “What does it look like after the last Cruze comes off the line and the media is gone, when it’s no longer headline news? What does it look like to see not just the plant idled, but the workers’ lives idled, too?” As she invites them to tell their own stories, a more complex picture begins to emerge, becoming visible as the events unravel the fabric of their community and ripple through their lives.
A substantial catalogue will be published by the Renaissance Society following the exhibition, featuring multiple new essays and extensive documentation of the exhibition.
The Last Cruze is curated by Karsten Lund and Solveig Øvstebø.
LaToya Ruby Frazier (b. 1982) is a visual artist known for collaborative storytelling with the people who appear in her photographs, videos, texts, interviews, and performances. Her work has been exhibited widely, including solo and group exhibitions at MUDAM, Luxembourg; CAPC Muséed’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, France; MAC’s Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Belgium; Carréd’Art, Nîmes; The Brooklyn Museum; Contemporary Art Museum, Houston; Seattle Art Museum; the 2012 Whitney Biennial; MCA Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art; and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, among others. Frazier is currently Associate Professor of Photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and she is represented by Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (New York | Rome). She is also the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Award (2015), TED Fellows (2015), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2014), and USA Artists (2014).
This exhibition is supported by Mirja and Ted Haffner, The Hartfield Foundation, David C. & Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, Barbara Bluhm-Kaul and Don Kaul, and Mary Frances Budig and John Hass.
The Renaissance Society is a program partner of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.