Allan Sekula, 1951-2013


Artist and critic Allan Sekula, known for his politically pointed photographic projects, died Aug. 10 in Los Angeles from gastroesophageal cancer. He was 62, and he taught at the California Institute of the Arts for nearly three decades.

“As a writer, Allan described with great clarity and passion what photography can, and must do: document the facts of social relations while opening a more metaphoric space to allow viewers the idea that things could be different,” said school of art dean Thomas Lawson in a statement. “And as a photographer he set out to do just that. He laid bare the ugliness of exploitation, but showed us the beauty of the ordinary; of ordinary, working people in ordinary, unremarkable places doing ordinary, everyday things.”

Born Jan. 15, 1951 in Erie, Penn., Sekula grew up in San Pedro, Calif., and earned a bachelor’s degree in art at UC San Diego. He earned an MFA in 1974 at the same school. After teaching briefly at New York University, he was on the faculty at Ohio State University’s department of photography and cinema for five years before, in 1985, going to CalArts.

In his contribution to “Debating Occupy,” an article for A.i.A.‘s politics-focused June/July 2012 issue, Sekula expressed deep skepticism about the art world: “The ‘art world’ is a small sector of culture in general, but an important one. It is, among other things, the illuminated luxury-goods tip of the commodity iceberg. The art world is the most complicit fabrication workshop for the compensatory dreams of financial elites who have nothing else to dream about but a ‘subjectivity’ they have successfully killed within themselves.”

Sekula published several books, including Fish Story (2003), Geography Lesson: Canadian Notes (1997) and Dismal Science: Photoworks 1972-1996 (1999).

His work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery; the University Art Museum at Berkeley; Rotterdam’s Witte de With; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Munich Kunstverein; and the Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels. He was included in numerous group shows including the 1993 Whitney Biennial in New York and Documenta 11 (2002) and 12 (2007), in Kassel, Germany.

He was granted fellowships by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Getty Research Institute, the Deutsche Akademischer Austauschdienst and the Atelier Calder.

Last year, the College Art Association granted him its Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art, in acknowledgement of his publication of books including Photography against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973-83 (1984) and Performance under Working Conditions (2003).