IT IS RARE for a curator to reign with virtual sovereignty over an entire medium, but during his nearly three decades as director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (from 1962 until his retirement in 1991), John Szarkowski did. His outpouring of exhibitions and catalogues at the pulpit of modern art and photography placed him on a singular pedestal in a recurrent spotlight, but it was less these conditions than his penetrating mind, eloquence, and perspective that made his opinion matter so much. In a field dominated by journalism and almost devoid of serious critical thought, Szarkowski was a flare of intellect, a lone poet among jobbing professionals. One would be hard-pressed to name another instance in which one man’s vision of an unrecognized art simultaneously created and educated its audience.
Szarkowski, who died on July 7 at the age of eighty-one,
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