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Aaron Siskind: Harlem Document

NEW YORK, NY.- The Studio Museum in Harlem presents the exhibition Aaron Siskind: Harlem Document, on view from through January 4, 2004.  Harlem Document is being presented in conjunction with the Aaron Siskind Centennial Celebration, which includes exhibitions at more than a dozen international institutions, each devoted to a different period or theme of the artist’s life and work. The Harlem Document series being presented at the Studio Museum is a generous gift to the Museum’s permanent collection from Barbara Doty, in partnership with Robert Mann Gallery, New York.

Aaron Siskind (1903-1991) 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 in Harlem from 1932-1940.  Harlem Document was part of a larger project initiated by the Photo League to examine urban neighborhoods.   In the early 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 and friends – Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Robert Rauschenberg – Aaron Siskind had found in abstraction a language of pure expression.

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 of images – 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 major 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 Center for the Museum of Fine Arts and The Fogg Museum, Boston.  Support for Aaron Siskind has been provided by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, the Evelyn Sharp Foundation and by Carol Sutton Lewis & William M. Lewis, Jr. The Harlem Document series is a generous gift to the Studio Museum permanent collection from Barbara Doty, in partnership with Robert Mann Gallery, New York.

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