Comments/Context: If we look at a spectrum of artists who employ a camera for image making, at one end we might place those who are single-minded in their use of photography, and at the other, those who use a variety of mediums for their artistic expression, with photography as just one of many ways to make a picture. For those at the multivalent end of the continuum, depending on which of their chosen mediums becomes most recognized or "successful", these artists often get categorized as single medium artists, even though they continue to use multiple methods tailored to specific circumstances or aesthetic goals.
Frederick Sommer is one of those multi-talented artists who got branded a "photographer" from an early point in his career, thereby marginalizing, at least from the point of the world at large, the rest of his artistic endeavors. This museum quality retrospective exhibit makes a substantial effort to rebalance the Sommer narrative, to highlight the strengths of the photography, but in the context of Sommer's equally innovative drawing, printmaking, collage, and painting. The picture that emerges is less of Sommer as the master photographer, but more of Sommer as a gifted artist who was exploring a variety of cutting edge, interconnected themes and ideas, probing the edges of the various available mediums to try and match his visual problems with the method that would most effectively be used to solve them.
Connections like these are all over this exhibit. One wall connects a painting with a pair of glue drawings, only to have these ideas reappear further along the wall in photographs of smoke on glass and cut paper made decades later. Another wall contains a series of Sommer's abstracted musical scores, where the score itself is transformed from specific notation into an open ended expression of layers, lines, and curves; hung amidst these scores is a 1950s photograph of architectural arches, echoing the multiple voices and harmonies of the fictitious music. In the front room, early 1940s photographs of groups of puzzling found objects are juxtaposed with 1990s cut paper collages (mostly made from 19th century hand drawn anatomical diagrams), both exhibiting a staggering density of layered ideas, as well as painstaking attention to detail. The back room takes these ideas further, bringing together Surrealist skipreading (embodied in text heavy graphic prints), skeletons, and complete abstractions of the Arizona landscape - all looking for new ways to find meaning in easily recognized materials.
- Drawings/prints/musical scores: $4500 to $20000
- Photographs: $10000 to $90000, with two NFS
- Collages: $12000 to $30000
- Paintings: $60000 to $70000
- Artist/estate site (here)
- Philadelphia MoA, 2009 (here)
- Getty, 2005 (here)
- Book: The Art of Frederick Sommer (here)
New York, NY 10011