In a career marked by experimentation and exploration, Aaron Siskind touched on many of the themes and trends of twentieth-century art. “Aaron Siskind: Pleasures and Terrors,” a new retrospective exhibition drawn from the permanent collection of the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, California, presents images from every period of his 60-year career, and offers enough variety to inspire just about every kind of photographer.
During the Depression, Siskind became a member of the Film and Photo League and made socially conscious work documenting working-class life in New York City. The exhibition features some of his best known images, which Siskind made in Harlem. The exhibition also shows his growing interest in Abstract Expressionism and the influence of his friendships with painters, including Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. His work became increasingly abstract and gestural, as he made close-ups of graffiti, weathered paint signs and other forms of mark-making not only in New York but in Italy, Mexico, Brazil and around the U.S. In 1951, his friend Harry Callahan invited him to join the faculty at the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which László Moholy-Nagy had founded and modeled after the Bauhaus school. In 1971, Siskind followed Callahan again, moving to the Rhode Island School of Design. Siskind’s students over the years included Ray K. Metzker, Linda Connor and Tom Barrow. Visitors to the exhibition, on view through January 30 on at the California Museum of Photography, will see how Siskind’s work and concerns shaped his students. But in viewing Siskind’s graphic and expressive photographs of cracked pavements, peeling paint and architectural facades, visitors will also see that his influence on modern photography extended far beyond the classroom. —Holly Stuart Hughes
How I Got That Grant: The Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship (For PDN subscribers; Log in required)