Aaron Siskind, Chicago 13, 1952

Aaron Siskind, American, 1903–1991: Chicago 13, 1952, printed later. Gelatin silver print, 25.6 x 32.8 cm. Gift of Dr. Bernard Barrish
(x1984-149). © Aaron Siskind Foundation / Photo by Bruce M. White

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, as a generation of abstract painters attempted to give their canvases the lively, unfinished look of scarred city walls, the wall itself became a popular subject among art photographers. Aaron Siskind epitomized the trend with his large-format images of weathered, age-worn public surfaces, seen frontally and cropped free of their urban context. Siskind exhibited at New York’s Charles Egan Gallery, the site of influential shows by his painter friends Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.

At a time when many still harbored doubts about abstraction in art, photographs of walls excused their abstractness by doubling as rigorously literal renderings of what an abstract painting is: an accumulation of markings on a flat, upright plane. In addition to their primary level of meaning as mirrors of personal feeling, such images sometimes invite interpretation as commentaries on cultural, political, and architectural history.

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Paper Buildings

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