“Photographs, Drawings, and Collages by Frederick Sommer”

Baltimore Museum of Art

If Frederick Sommer’s work is compelling, it is also elusive, even downright odd. Born in Italy and raised in Brazil, he trained as a landscape architect at Cornell. Forced to abandon that profession when he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, at the age of twenty-five, he became an artist instead. After undergoing treatment in Switzerland, he moved to Arizona to recuperate, where he would live for the better part of seven decades. This biographical confluence does not delimit or define his work, but his career-ending ailment was certainly one impetus for his art—an extended meditation on illusion, decay, and death—which he pursued until shortly before his demise this year.

Although he made drawings, paintings, and collages, Sommer is best known for his austere, sometimes puzzling photographs. Most famous is the untitled 1939 photo of an amputated foot, which made Sommer look like something

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