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Aaron Siskind, Gloucester, 1944. Photo: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
Aaron Siskind, Gloucester, 1944. Photo: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.

Aaron Siskind Foundation Transfers 8,000-Work Collection to Virginia’s Museum of Fine Arts

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond (VMFA) has received a gift of more than eight thousand photographs by Aaron Siskind (1903–1991) from the artist’s New York–based foundation. Established in 1984 to protect Siskind’s legacy, the organization recently decided to cease its operations and transfer its holdings to an art museum that would care for its collection and administer its annual fellowship prize.

“After a thorough search of the major art institutions across the country, the Aaron Siskind Foundation was delighted to find that the visionary leadership, ambitious plans for the future, and commitment to carrying on Aaron Siskind’s legacy made VMFA the ideal choice as the new and permanent home for the collection and administration of the Siskind Prize,” said foundation president Victor Schrager.

The gift includes 4,062 photographs spanning every stage of the artist’s career. Born in New York City to Russian immigrants in 1903, Siskind first began taking photographs with a large-format view camera on his honeymoon in Bermuda, following his marriage to Sidonie Glatter. Siskind later joined the Film and Photo League in New York and became a street photographer, producing works such as his “Harlem Document” series. In the early 1940s, he shifted to creating more abstract photographs, which were shown alongside those of Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and other painters of the New York School in a series of exhibitions at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York between 1947 and 1951. 

Siskind went on to teach photography at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago from 1951 to 1970 and at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1971 until his retirement in 1976. He spent the next two decades traveling extensively to Italy, Morocco, Mexico, and Peru, where he continued working. Many of his late photographs are included in the additional 3,900 duplicate prints that will be given to the VMFA so that it may donate them to other museums, including those in cities and places where Siskind lived.

Commenting on the gift, VMFA director and CEO Alex Nyerges said: “With this remarkable donation from the Aaron Siskind Foundation, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts owns what Siskind and his colleagues considered to be the finest prints of every important work he ever made. Comparable to the key sets of Paul Strand’s photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Alfred Stieglitz’s photographs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, this gift also allows VMFA to become an important center for the study and appreciation of Siskind’s life and work, as well as photography in general.”