In a 1951 essay, the artist and art critic Elaine de Kooning described Aaron Siskind as a “painter’s photographer.” Over 60 years later he remains the photographer most closely associated with mid-20th-century Abstract Expressionism. His flat picture planes, shallow depth of field, and focus on surface textures resonate with the gestural paintings of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. Siskind also shared an artistic ethos with many of these painters: he emphasized the way his own feelings shaped the image as he made it and became part of the work itself.
Siskind, along with other abstract photographers of this period—such as Harry Callahan, Minor White, and Gita Lenz—broadened the expressive potential of photography and expanded the definition of abstraction. Unlike painters, these artists composed their images directly from the environment around them, actively looking and moving their camera lens as they sought inspiration in subjects as seemingly mundane as rocks and peeling letters. For the most part their subjects can be easily identified, yet they are considered abstract because extreme close-ups or unusual angles take the image out of a narrative context, allowing the viewer to experience something familiar in a new way.
The exhibition includes a dozen of Siskind’s photographs and three to four each from Callahan, White, and Lenz. It will overlap with the final two months of Gesture: Judith Godwin and Abstract Expressionism, offering museum visitors an opportunity to further consider the relationship of abstract photography and painting. Curated by Dr. Sarah Eckhardt, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
“ What I am conscious of and what I feel is the picture I am making.” — Aaron Siskind, Credo, 1950
“ The world about us, penetrated with imagination, is abstract enough.” — Gita Lenz, 1951
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