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Aug. 12: Miller Gallery Presents Exhibition About the Reuse of Abandoned Retail Stores


Eric Sloss                        

Carnegie Mellon's Miller Gallery Presents Exhibition
About the Reuse of Abandoned Retail Stores, Aug. 29–Nov. 3

Spam MuseumPITTSBURGH—The Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University presents "Your Town, Inc.," an exhibition with photographs and installations by Julia Christensen, Aug. 29 through Nov. 23. The gallery will host a hometown barbeque reception from 6 to 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 19. Christensen will also discuss her exhibition and her new book, "Big Box Reuse," from 4:30 to 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 13 as part of the Carnegie Mellon Lecture Series. Her talk will coincide with the November release of her book, published by MIT Press.

"What happens when Wal-Mart moves out, leaving behind massive and drearily generic buildings amidst acres of paved land? Rather than focusing on multinational retailers for their relentless, smothering expansion, the critical and inquisitive Julia Christensen chooses to focus on community and is optimistic about our ability to move on," said Astria Suparak, director of the Miller Gallery.    

The exhibition will feature 78 photographs from her forthcoming book, which examines how communities are changing in the shadow of corporate real estate. Christensen, an author, artist and researcher, has spent the past six years studying the "big box" mega-stores constructed by transnational corporations, such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. Her exhibition explores how communities make use of the "big box" structures after the companies that built them abandon them.

As part of "Your Town, Inc.," Christensen collaborated with students at Oberlin College to create an "UnBox," a new sculptural installation in reaction and response to the "big box" concept. She worked with only regional materials, local people and businesses. The "UnBox" will be activated for creative and social uses, challenging the values and conventions of corporate retail.   

"She has researched ways that American communities have creatively adapted and transformed these mega stores into more constructive uses, while asking her audience to think critically about what a landscape of reused big boxes actually means for our future," Suparak said. "And she offers a response to the big box concept by creating an architectural installation for this exhibition, providing us with a starting point and a location to discuss urgent issues, such as sustainability and human-centered design."

Christensen's work has been featured in The New York Times, the Globe and Mail, Preservation Magazine for the National Trust and other publications. Her new media, video and installation work was shown recently at the Lincoln Center, the DUMBO Arts Center and the Walker Art Center.

Christensen is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Emerging Arts at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, where she teaches in the Studio Arts and TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) departments. She has also taught at Stanford University and California College of the Arts, among other universities.

The Miller Gallery is located in the Purnell Center for the Arts on Carnegie Mellon's campus. The gallery is free and open to the public from 12 to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Visit for more information.

Pictured above is the Spam Museum entrance in the reused K-Mart building in Austin, Minn. Photo by Julia Christensen.