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Frederick Sommer at 100


September 1–October 1, 2005

32 East 57th Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY


Installation Views

Selected Works

Frederick Sommer of Arizona is the rare one who takes time to work in the sun and in the dark, in desert and in camera.
- Minor White, 1962


Pace/MacGill Gallery is proud to announce an exhibition commemorating the centennial anniversary of Frederick Sommer’s birth. Comprised of collages, drawings and photographs made by Sommer between 1939 and 1991, “Frederick Sommer At 100” provides a platform from which to consider the remarkable breadth of the artist’s life work. Although widely recognized as a photographer, Sommer’s creative pursuits -- and, subsequently, his influence --spanned many media. In order to understand Sommer’s oeuvre, his legacy is best viewed in its totality. From this inclusive perspective, the many sources informing Sommer’s work can be identified. History, literature, music, philosophy and the dynamic relationship between the natural and cultural worlds deeply impacted Sommer; his work is a synthesis of them all.

A meticulous craftsman, Sommer produced a relatively small quantity of finished works. Over the course of nearly seven decades, Sommer experimented with a range of media and modes of expression. His talent enabled him to dexterously move between disciplines and his willingness to embrace seemingly unrelated practices and materials resulted in equally unorthodox images: horizon-less desert landscapes, out-of-focus nudes, camera-less abstractions, and collages of found objects. Impossible to classify and often controversial, Sommer developed an aesthetic singular and sophisticated enough to support fundamentally disparate subjects such as amputated limbs, chicken and doll parts, animal carcasses, oil paint, and those close to him.

In his prologue to The Art of Frederick Sommer (Yale University Press, 2005) Keith F. Davis, Director of Hallmark Cards, Inc. Fine Art Programs, observed:


The uniqueness of Sommer’s vision is a reflection of who he was in the deepest sense: the sum total of his worldly experiences and of the vast archive of sources he made for himself. His work...blurs the distinction between nature and culture, fact and idea, perception and intuition. Sommer’s grand synthesis is an explicitly aesthetic achievement, and one with a rich philosophical lineage...In striving to grasp these unifying principles, we take the first step to understanding (or at least accepting) everything. This is both the challenge and the reward of Sommer’s art.


Frederick Sommer (1905-1999) was born in Italy, spent his adolescence in Brazil and studied at various institutions there prior to enrolling as a graduate student at Cornell University from which he received his M.A. in Landscape Architecture (1927). Sommer began teaching design, drawing and watercolor in Tucson during the early 1930s. Following a meeting with Alfred Steiglitz in 1935 and an introduction to Edward Weston a year later, Sommer’s understanding of photography’s relationship to other artistic media deepened. As a result of Weston’s particular encouragement, his exploration of photography accelerated. Sommer’s smaller cameras were replaced with an 8-by-10 inch view camera, and he began photographing the people and environment around Prescott, Arizona, where he lived. In a momentous 1941 meeting with Max Ernst, Sommer became acquainted with Surrealism; that occasion launched Sommer’s incorporation of the surreal into his art, a practice that continued throughout his career. Sommer’s work has been presented in over 150 solo and group exhibitions worldwide since 1932, and centennial tributes have been organized by: the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame, the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sommer’s work belongs to many public collections in the United States and abroad including: the Art Institute of Chicago; the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson; the George Eastman House, Rochester; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; the Princeton University Art Museum; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

This is Sommer’s sixth exhibition at Pace/MacGill Gallery.

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