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  • The Phillips Connection
    Michael O'Sullivan

    The Washington post, 06/2004
    Newspaper Article

    Of the group, "Aaron Siskind: New Relationships in Photography," which pairs Siskind's black-and-white photos of peeling walls, asphalt cracks, graffiti and washed-up seaweed with the work of such abstract expressionist painters as Franz Kline, is my favorite. "August Sander: Photographs of the German Landscape," which focuses not on the artist's well-known portraiture, but on pictures of trees and streams, almost all made during the politically charged decade of the 1930s, is a close second. The one exhibition that actually breaks some news, "Revelation: Georges Rouault at Work," probably rocked my world the least, despite the discovery by conservator Marla Curtis (a former Phillips conservation fellow now with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) that the French painter painted exclusively on paper -- and sometimes on top of his own prints -- before affixing them to backings of canvas or other material and then reworking them. Don't think, though, that the word "new" in the title of this show means that the connections between Siskind's art and that of his painter pals at New York's Cedar Bar (along with Kline, Siskind knew Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman and others) are just now being uncovered. Rather, the "newness" refers to the shift in Siskind's work from documentary to abstraction, as Siskind, in the words of curator Stephen Bennett Phillips, "pushed his art in the direction of pure gesture." In other words, the relationship between Siskind's photos and ab-ex painting may not be news to us, but it was news 50 years ago.