Allan Sekula: The Body and the Archive (1951-2013)

Photo courtesy of Brigitte Bitomsky (2013).

Allan Sekula with his wife, Sally Stein. Photo courtesy of Brigitte Bitomsky (2013).

“The ‘art world’ is a small sector of culture in general, but an important one. It is, among other things, the illuminated luxury-goods tip of the commodity iceberg. The art world is the most complicit fabrication workshop for the compensatory dreams of financial elites who have nothing else to dream about but a ‘subjectivity’ they have successfully killed within themselves.” – Allan Sekula

Artist, writer, and teacher, Allan Sekula, passed away last night. Allan was one of my teachers at CalArts, and a person that I coined the walking archive. Anyone who ever studied with Allan or heard him speak will understand why.

Allan was not only a great artist, he was a rare artist. Rare in that he practiced what he taught, and in line with the small number of teachers that I respect, Allan did not see teaching as an impediment to his artistic practice. Rather, Allan saw teaching and writing as a crucial and necessary part of his praxis.

It is odd that just this past Friday, in thinking about the history of appropriation and it’s relationship to art and critique, I thought of Allan’s seminal essay, On the Invention of Photographic Meaning. One cannot think about the image, appropriation, collage, and history without thinking about Allan Sekula.

I will remember Allan for his body of work, his generous outlook on art education, and his undying devotion to disseminating the need for art’s role as a critical apparatus. Thank you, Allan. You will be missed.

UPDATE: August 11, 2013

Artist and CalArts School of Art Dean, Thomas Lawson, on Allan Sekula.

2 comments on this post.
  1. Mary Beth Heffernan:

    Thanks for this, Sergio. I studied with Allan while he was working on Fish Story, and his History and Photography and Visual Semiotics were extended lessons through the lens of this remarkable book. Fish Story pulled back the curtain on the dematerialized myths of late capitalism with humanity, lyricism and an encyclopedic understanding of the cultural imaginary. These were the great gifts of Allan’s teaching. We witnessed his wide-ranging curiosity, his command of the disparate métiers of economics, history, philosophy and visual culture, and his ability to synthesize them into a complex and rigorous vision. If witnessing the creation of Fish Story served as a model of an art practice driven by intense love of learning, The Body and the Archive deeply informed my interest in corporeality and representation. And there’s no better essay on what Allan called the tendentiousness of images than The Invention of Photographic Meaning. Allan was intellectually and personally generous, funny and kind. Thank you, Allan. I’m sad that you’re gone.

  2. Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento:

    Thank you, Mary Beth, for your kind thoughts. It is clear that Allan touched quite a few of us, and he will remain in our thoughts, minds, and creations.


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