Aaron Siskind

October 16 — December 6, 2003


Aaron Siskind 100 celebrates the artist's centennial and is one of many exhibitions being presented at over a dozen institutions worldwide, each devoted to a different period or theme of the artist's life and work.

Aaron Siskind was one of the most important and influential artists of the twentieth century. He began his career as a social documentary photographer under the auspices of the New York Photo League. His most notable work during this period was the Harlem Document, a moving series of portraits as well as scenes of street and home life, part of a larger project initiated by the Photo League to examine urban neighborhoods. In the 1940s, Siskind began to shift towards abstraction, inspired by images he made of found objects during visits to Martha's Vineyard and Gloucester, Massachusetts. "For the first time in my life subject matter, as such, had ceased to be of primary importance," Siskind explained, "instead I found myself involved in the relationship of these objects, so much so that the pictures turned out to be deeply moving and personal experiences."

Much like his colleagues—Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Rauschenberg—he had found in abstraction a language of pure expression. Robert Sobieszek, Curator of Photography at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, states, "Few photographers in history have aimed their camera at such unassuming subject matter and have come away with images as profoundly moving and metaphysical as Aaron Siskind's. In his photography, weathered walls, torn posters, a string of seaweed, bits of graffiti and piles of rock assume Wagnerian proportions while testifying to the abject, existential thereness of things." Siskind's first major exhibition was held in 1949 at the Charles Egan Gallery, notable for its support of Abstract Expressionist painters. In the following years, he worked as a college professor, exhibited and traveled extensively, and continued to refine his vision. Siskind received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His final series — abstractions of curving and intersecting tar lines on asphalt — is the culmination of a lifelong exploration into the expressive possibilities of abstract photography. Aaron Siskind died in Rhode Island in 1991.

The Aaron Siskind Foundation manages the artist's archives and fosters knowledge of his legacy through exhibitions, books, and educational programs. Siskind wanted the foundation to become a resource that would support contemporary photography. It is now one of the few American organizations that provides yearly cash grants to aspiring photographers. Robert Mann Gallery is the exclusive representative of the artist's work and of the Aaron Siskind Foundation.

Aaron Siskind's work is included in numerous museum collections, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Cleveland Museum of Art; The Center for Creative Photography, Tucson; the Canadian Center for Architecture, Quebec; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum, Providence; The Fogg Museum, Boston and The Center for the Museum of Fine Arts.