Allan Sekula

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Allan Sekula (January 15, 1951 – August 10, 2013) was an American photographer, writer, filmmaker, theorist and critic. From 1985 until his death in 2013, he taught at California Institute of the Arts.[1] His work frequently focused on large economic systems, or "the imaginary and material geographies of the advanced capitalist world."[2]

He received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Getty Research Institute, Deutsche Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), Atelier Calder[3] and was named a 2007 USA Broad Fellow.

Life and work[edit]

Sekula was born in 1951 in Erie, Pennsylvania, of Polish and English descent. His family moved to San Pedro, California in the early 1960s.[1] He began making art in the early 1970s, staging performances, building installations, and producing photo series. Sekula practiced what he called "critical realism", informed by Marxist thought, documentary photography, and conceptual art.[4]

Sekula's principal medium was photography, which he employed to create exhibitions, books and films. His secondary medium was the written word, employing essays and other critical texts in concert with images to create a multi-level critique of contemporary late capitalism. His works make critical contributions on questions of social reality and globalization, and focus on what he described as "the imaginary and material geographies of the advanced capitalist world". He was a film/video-maker, frequently collaborating with film theorist Noël Burch on projects such as The Reagan Tapes (1984) (with regard to Ronald Reagan), and The Forgotten Space (2010).[5]

With his work Aereospace Folktales (1973), he began mixing his photographic series with long texts, a form for which he would be particularly well-known. Fish Story (1995) explores the world maritime and forms the basis for much of The Forgotten Space.

He served on the faculty of the Photography and Media Program at the California Institute of the Arts.[6]

Sekula died on August 10, 2013, aged 62, following a long struggle with gastric-esophageal cancer.[4]


  • Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973–1983 (1984).
  • Fish Story (1995).
  • Dead Letter Office (1997).
  • Seemannsgarn (2002).
  • Titanic's Wake (2003).
  • Performance under Working Conditions (2003).
  • A Dialogue with Allan Sekula (2005).
  • Facing the Music: Documenting Walt Disney Hall and the Redevelopment of Downtown Los Angeles. East of Borneo Books, 2015. ISBN 978-0692312445. A project by Allan Sekula. Edited by Edward Dimendberg, with contributions by Louis Adamic, James Baker, Laura Diamond Dixit, Anthony Hernandez, Karin Apollonia Müller, Leonard Nadel, Allan Sekula, and Billy Woodberry.


  • A Short Film for Laos[7] (2006).
  • The Forgotten Space (2010).



  • 1973: Socialist Realism: Photo-Text Works by Fred Lonidier and Allan Sekula, Gallery A-402, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California
  • 1975: Video: Martha Rosler and Allan Sekula, The Kitchen, New York, New York
  • 1976: New American Filmmakers Series: Connell, Sekula and Torres, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
  • 1980: Martha Rosler and Allan Sekula, Anna Leonowens Gallery, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • 1981: Erweiterte Fotografie: Fifth International Vienna Biennale, Vienna Secession, Vienna, Austria
  • 1981: Likely Stories, Castelli Graphics, New York, New York
  • 1983: Susan Meiselas and Allan Sekula, Film in the Cities Photo Gallery, St. Paul Minnesota
  • 1983: Westbury. Traveled to State University of New York, Cortland Game, Amelie Wallace Gallery, State University of New York, Old Westbury. Traveled to State University of New York, Cortland, Cortland, New York
  • 1984: Art and Ideology, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
  • 1985: San Francisco Camerawork, San Francisco, California (solo)
  • 1987: Vormen van Documentaire Photografie in de jaren '80, Galerie Perspektief, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 1989: If You Lived Here: Home Front:, Dia Art Foundation, New York, New York
  • 1989: Geography Lesson: Canadian Notes, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (solo). Traveled to Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles; A Space, Toronto; P.S. 1, Long Island City, Queens, New York; Amelie Wallace Gallery, State University of New York, Old Westbury, New York; Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Mendel Art Gallery; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario; Western Front, Vancouver, British Columbia.
  • 1991: Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • 1991: A Dialogue about Recent American and European Photography, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
  • 1991: The Power of Words: An Aspect of Recent Documentary Photography, PPOW Gallery, New York
  • 1991: Critical Realism, Perspektief, Rotterdam
  • 1992: Wasteland: Landscape from Now On, Fotografie Biennale, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 1993: *1993 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York
  • 1994: Proposition I, One-Five, Brussels, Belgium
  • 1995: Aerospace Folktales and Canadian Notes, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • 1996: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Traveled to Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden; Tramway, Glasgow; Le Channel and Musée des Beaux-Arts, Calais; Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, California.
  • 1996: Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 1996: Face a l'Histoire, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
  • 1997: InSite 97, San Diego/Tijuana, Centro Cultural de Tijuana, Tijuana, Mexico
  • 1998: Deep Six/Passer au bleu, Museé des Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle, Calais Galerie Michel Rein, Paris
  • 1998: Dismal Science: Photo Works *1972-*1996, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois; traveled to Palmer Museum, Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania; daadgalerie, Berlin; Camerawork, London; Nederlands Foto Instituut, Rotterdam; Kunstverein Munchen, Munich, Germany; Curtain University Art Gallery, Perth; Atlanta College of Art, Atlanta; Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels
  • 1998: La mer n’est pas la terre, Le Criée, Rennes, France
  • 1998: Port and Corridor: Work Sites in Los Angeles: Robbert Flick and Allan Sekula, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California
  • 1998: Scratches on the Surface of Things, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 1999: Trace: Liverpool Biennial. Liverpool, England, UK
  • 1999: Fish Story, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, Washington
  • 2000: Seascape, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California.
  • 2000: Desert and Transit, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Kiel, Germany
  • 2000: Die Regierung/The Government, Alte Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover, Germany
  • 2000: Titanic's wake, CCC, Tours, France; Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California (solo)
  • 2001: Galerie Michel Rein, Paris, France (solo)
  • 2001: TITANIC's wake (curated by Jürgen Bock), Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon, Portugal (solo)
  • 2001: Contemporary moments, MACBA, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2001: Antagonismes. Casos d'estudi, Museu d'Art Contemporain de Barcelone, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2001: Yokohama *2001, International Triennale of Contemporary Art, Yokohama, Japan (cat.)
  • 2002: shadow Festival 3, Amsterdam, Netherlands (cat.)
  • 2002: Regarder la mer. Repenser le monde, Le Grand Café, St-Nazaire, France
  • 2002: Sans commune mesure, Centre national de la photographie, Paris; Musée d’Art Moderne, Lille Métropole, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France; Le Fresnoy, Studio national des arts contemporains, Tourcoing, France
  • 2002: The Politics of Place, BildMuseet, Umea Universitet, Sweden (cat.)
  • 2002: Fish Story, Dokumenta XI, Kassel, Germany (cat.)
  • 2002: Waiting for Tear Gas (white globe to black), Camera Austria, Graz, Austria (solo)
  • 2002: Irrational Exuberance, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California (solo)
  • 2003: Allan Sekula, Performance under Working Conditions, Generali Foundation, Vienna, Austria. Retrospective exhibit with catalogue interview by Benjamin Buchloh (solo)
  • 2003: Black Tide/Marea Negra, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California (solo)
  • 2003: Singuliers voyages, Domaine départemental de Chamarande, Chamarande
  • 2003: Vigo Visions. Coleccion fotografica do concello de Vigo, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Vigo, Spain
  • 2003: Witness. Contemporary Artists Document Our Time, Barbican Art, London, England, UK
  • 2003: AT WORK: The Art of California Labor, San Francisco State University Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco, California
  • 2003: After the news, Postmedia Documentaries, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2003: Collecció MACBA, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2004: The Quiet in the Land, Luang Prabang, Laos
  • 2004: The L.A. Years, Part 1, 25th Anniversary Exhibition, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, California
  • 2004: Die Universität ist eine Fabrik, Kunstraum der Universität Lüneburg, curators: Roger M. Buergel, Ruth Noack, Lüneburg, Germany
  • 2004: Diaporama 04, MACBA, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2004 Paysages Invisibles, Musée départemental d'art contemporain de Rochechouart, France
  • 2004 L'Ombre du temps, galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, France
  • 2004 Prayer for the Americans, Galerie Michel Rein, Paris, France (solo)
  • 2004 Freeway to China & Black Tide/Marea negra, National Museum, Zadar, Croatia (solo)
  • 2005 Shipwreck and Workers, STUK Kunstcentrum, Leuven, Belgium (solo)
  • 2005 Shipwreck and Workers: Verson 2 for Leuven, STUK Arts Center, Leuven, Belgium (solo)
  • 2005 TITANIC's wake, Camera Austria/Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria (solo)
  • 2005 Occupying Space, TENT Centrum Beeldende Kunst, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • 2005 How do we want to be governed? (Figure and Ground), Miami Art Central, Miami, Florida
  • 2005 Emergencies, MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon), Madrid, Spain
  • 2005 Facing the Music, the gallery at REDCAT in Disney Hall, Los Angeles, California
  • 2005 Dear Bill Gates (poster version) installed throughout Leuven in conjunction with Meunier, a dialogue. Contemporary art meets Constantin Meunier and Leuven, Belgium
  • 2005 Inward OUTward, FLACC - Casino Modern, Belgium

Collections (selected)[edit]

Sekula's work is held in the following public collections:


  1. ^ a b ""Allan Sekula, 1951-2013"". Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  2. ^ "Notice of death of artist Allan Sekula, 1951–2013". Retrieved 2013-08-13. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Allan Sekula obituary (1951–2013)". Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Allan Sekula, R.I.P". The Daily Beast. Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  5. ^ Icarus Films website
  6. ^ "Allan Sekula". Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  7. ^ Film description
  8. ^ Allan Sekula - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York, NY. Accessed 23 January 2015.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Allan Sekula". Artnet. Retrieved August 13, 2013. 

External links[edit]