Clifford Ross

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Clifford Ross
Clifford Ross 2011 Shankbone.JPG
Ross at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival Vanity Fair party
Born (1952-10-15)October 15, 1952
New York City, NY, United States
Nationality United States American
Education Yale University, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture
Known for Photography, Video Art

Clifford Ross (born October 15, 1952) is an American artist who has worked in multiple media, including sculpture, painting, photography and video. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.[1]


Born in New York City, Ross earned a Bachelor of Arts in Art and Art History from Yale University in 1974, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1973. After his college years, his painting was influenced by Abstract Expressionism and the Color Field School, which included his aunt, Helen Frankenthaler. In 1980, he broke off his relationship with Clement Greenberg and many of the artists around him, with the exception of his aunt, with whom he maintained a close relationship throughout her life.[2] [3] Following his early career in painting and sculpture, Ross began his photographic work in 1995. A major milestone in his work is the Hurricane series, begun in 1996. The black and white images in the series depict large-scale ocean waves shot by Ross while in the tumultuous surf, often up to his chest, and tethered to an assistant on land.[4]

In 2002, in order to photograph Mount Sopris in Colorado, Ross invented the R1 camera[5], with which he made some of the highest resolution large-scale landscape photographs in the world. In 2005, he designed and built the R2 360 degree video camera[6] and the i3 Digital Cyclorama with Bran Ferren and other imaging scientists at Applied Minds, Inc.[7]

Ross's artistic output is defined by an ongoing embrace of realism and abstraction. Ross has described this process stating, "I can never quite reach the essence of my subject with a camera, so my artistic cycle shifts to a wide range of media and strategies, moving from realism to abstraction. It is a creative loop of dissatisfaction. After using a variety of abstract means, I revert back to using a camera. And so on. Making art is an endless chase." [8]

Ross’s more recent collaborations include Harmonium Mountain I with an original score by Philip Glass, a site-specific, multi-screen production with the Orchestra of St. Luke's at Celebrate Brooklyn!,[9] a multimedia installation in Beijing with Pan Gongkai, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts,[10] and a 3.5 ton, 28' x 28' stained glass wall with Franz Mayer of Munich, and architects Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam for the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Austin, Texas. [11]

Landscape Seen & Imagined, a major mid-career survey of Ross's work, was held at MASS MoCA in 2015 through early 2016. It included a massive, multi-screen outdoor installation of his Harmonium Mountain I video world with twelve 24' x 18' screens. The exhibition was the first to feature new work in both the Wood and Digital Wave series including 24' high x 114' long photograph on wood veneer that spanned the length of MASS MoCA's tallest gallery [12] and the artist's Wave Cathedral, which presented a large-scale immersive environment on LED walls. [13]

Ross is a contributing editor for BOMB magazine, editor of the book Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics, and is Chairman of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. His work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States, as well as in Europe, Brazil, and China.


Painting and Sculpture[edit]

Between 1974-1979, Ross’s painting and sculpture work was entirely abstract. He determined that the only way forward was to find his own way into abstraction with a proper base in realism like the Abstract Expressionists and Color Field artists whom he admired. Ross stopped exhibiting for four years, studying figurative painting and sculpture at the National Academy of Design, and then continued on his own. By 1987, he was producing paintings that were tied to landscape imagery, but with a high degree of physical materiality and abstraction. In order to explore the landscapes that served as inspiration for his painting and sculptural works, Ross often took photographic studies, at times even using them as collaged elements to create imaginary scenes. [14] Eventually, Ross’s use of photography took over and by the mid-1990s he began to produce his first serious works in the medium.

Hurricane Series[edit]

The series was originally photographed from 1996–2001 and was then extended by Ross in 2008, when he chose to capture the imagery with a digital camera instead of film. [15] All the waves in the series were generated by hurricanes. Among his influences is J. M. W. Turner, [16] with whom Ross shares a fascination with the violence of the sea. Ross has said, “[w]hen I’m shooting, the wind is often howling, the water is churning and pulling at me… A still image doesn’t move. But I have to try and deliver the wonder of movement through its absence—to find ways to telegraph the anxiety and delight of movement through a fixed image.” [17] His drive to share the power of ocean waves with the viewer is not limited to his extreme efforts in capturing the image, but is central to Ross’s obsessive and innovative printing methods as well. He spent a decade in the darkroom printing silver gelatin prints, and since 2009 has printed on wood veneer, pushing the photographic medium past its existing limits. [18] He is known for his efforts to communicate the sublime in the Hurricane series, and in most of his other work as well. [19]

Horizon and Grain series[edit]

The Hurricane series led to two other bodies of work, the Horizon series and Grain series. The Horizons are small images of a placid ocean with a low horizon line, which show minimal waves in the foreground and large expanses of sky above. They reflect his appreciation of the ocean's calmer moments, when it is not buffeted by harsh weather. In the Grain series, photography was reduced to pure tonality, the subject reduced to light and the 'grain' of the film’s emulsion, becoming not a picture, or a picture of nothing, but an almost pure abstraction. [20] The resulting images may be the most abstract photographs ever made, but evoke the hypnotic and meditative power of the sea. The transition from his Hurricane photographs to the Horizon and Grain series is a good example of Ross's constant shifting between realism and abstraction. Taken as a group, the Hurricanes, Horizons and Grain series compose a trilogy known as Wave Music. [21]

Mountain Series[edit]

Typical of Ross’ dialectical working process, he found his next subject, far from the ocean in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado: Mount Sopris. Realizing the limitations of existing film and digital cameras, he invented the R1 high-resolution camera system, which uses military aerial film and a unique digital post-production process, capable of capturing the individual shingles on a barn from 4,000 feet away. [22] The resulting photographs–the Mountain series–are among the highest resolution single shot landscapes in the world. He received U.S. Patent 6,795,648B1 for his camera. [23] When they were made, the resulting photographs–the Mountain series–were among the highest resolution single shot landscapes in the world.

This technical endeavor was developed in the service of Ross's artistic motivation–to reveal the immensity of his subject, it's ever changing light, and its astonishing number of details, all contributing to his experience of the sublime. The resulting work has drawn parallels to the Hudson River School. [24] Photographs in the Mountain series are printed in a large format that envelopes the viewer, creating a "you are there experience." [25]

Mountain Redux and Harmonium Mountain[edit]

The Mountain Redux and Harmonium series signal a turn to abstraction based on the hyper-detailed Mountain photographs. Describing his trajectory from the Mountain series to his Mountain Redux work and the video world of Harmonium Mountain, Ross stated, “I broke down the realism of my ‘Mountain’ images into black-and-white negatives, printed them on handmade paper… eventually leapt into an abstract world of color, and then into movement with animation.” [26] The five years of work on the original Mountain photographs were followed by 12 years of working with ever more abstract depictions of Mount Sopris, and that work is ongoing.

The short video known as Harmonium Mountain I, with an original score by Philip Glass, premiered at the Site Santa Fe International Biennial in 2010. The film’s official New York premiere was at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011.

In 2012, Ross collaborated with Chinese musician and composer Wu Tong on Harmonium Mountain II, which had its world premiere at China's Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in November of that year. The U.S. premiere of Harmonium Mountain II was at the Asia Society in New York City in March, 2015. [27]

Federal Courthouse in Austin, Texas[edit]

Ross was commissioned to execute a public art project for the new Federal Courthouse bordering Republic Square Park in Austin, Texas, designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects for the General Services Administration.

Ross’s high-resolution photograph of the Texas Hill Country was the basis for the imagery of the 28’ x 28’ stained glass wall he has designed. The wall includes oversize hydraulically controlled doors, which open to combine two large-scale interior spaces for public events. It was executed in conjunction with Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich, with whom Ross worked to combine centuries old stained glass techniques with 21st-century digital technology. [28] The completed work was unveiled in 2013 and awarded the U.S. General Services Administration Honor Award in 2014.

Wood Series[edit]

Ross's engagement with wood and photography began while developing the General Services Administration commission to create artwork for the U.S. General Federal Courthouse in Austin. Although he ultimately executed a large-scale stained-glass wall, he continued to develop a method to print on wood for seven years, initially printing in his studio on thin veneers.[29] Throughout the process, including hand-selecting trees in the Midwest and developing a deep sensitivity to the wood grain, their physicality transformed the works into something beyond photography.[30] Known now as Wood Prints,[31] the first large scale work, Sopris Wall I, was created in 2015 for MASS MoCA, executed on ninety 4' x 8' panels and measured 24' x 114'. [32]

Subsequent projects include wood prints of Hurricane Waves in the exhibition Water | Waves | Wood at BRIC House in Brooklyn, and Light | Waves at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York.

Digital Wave Series[edit]

Ross's desire to create a "you are there" hurricane wave experience for the viewer resulted in the development of his Digital Waves, technically videos that are designed for display on oversize LED walls. [33] The Digital Waves are completely computer generated, utilizing special algorithms to capture the unique movements and lyrical qualities of the sea, and although abstract, they reference the real world. [34] They are made up of millions of moving dots, creating dramatic immersive experiences on the large LED walls.

While the origin of the series is the artist's Hurricane Wave series, the aesthetic is based in modernist abstraction, with Ross citing Jackson Pollock's drip paintings and Morris Louis's Veils as inspirations. [35] Art historian David Anfam notes that they are "in effect a continuation of painting (most notably Abstract Expressionism) by other means, as indeed, are all [Ross's] ingenious digital effects and kindred approaches to the technological sublime." [36]

Lectures and teaching[edit]

Ross has lectured in numerous university and museum settings, including Princeton, Yale, and New York University. He is a member of the Yale School of Art Dean’s Advisory Board, which includes artists Chuck Close, Richard Serra, Byron Kim, and Sheila Hicks.

Published works[edit]


Selected Solo Exhibitions:

  • 2017, Light | Waves, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York
  • 2015, Landscape Seen & Imagined, MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts
  • 2015, Water | Waves | Wood, BRIC House, Brooklyn, New York
  • 2014, Hurricane Waves, Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou, China
  • 2014, Waves and Steel, Galerie Perrin, Paris
  • 2011, Clifford Ross, Guild Hall, East Hampton, New York
  • 2011, Landscape to Imagination, Sonnabend Gallery, New York
  • 2009, Hurricanes, Sonnabend Gallery, New York
  • 2009, Clifford Ross: Mountains and Sea, MADRE / Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples
  • 2009, Photography: Beyond Realism, Robilant + Voena, London
  • 2009, Clifford Ross Photography: Outside Realism (10–year survey), Austin Museum of Art, Texas
  • 2008, Mountain Redux, Sonnabend Gallery, New York
  • 2006, Clifford Ross, Galeria Javier Lopez, Madrid
  • 2005, The Mountain Series, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York
  • 2005, Mountain, Sonnabend Gallery, New York
  • 2004, Grain Pictures and Horizons, Sonnabend Gallery, New York
  • 1999, Works on Water, Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
  • 1997, Paintographs and Photographs, Houk Friedman Gallery, New York
  • 1994, Paintings and Works on Paper, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York
  • 1988, Clifford Ross, Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
  • 1984, Sculpture & Paintings, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, New York
  • 1979, Watson/de Nagy Gallery, Houston, Texas
  • 1976, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, New York

Selected Group Exhibitions:

  • 2016, The Beethoven Project (Digital Waves stage installation with a live performance by Julian Rachlin), 92nd Street Y, New York
  • 2016, The Ileana Sonnabend Collection, Ca' Pesaro, International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice
  • 2015, Harmonium Mountain (immersive stage video with a live performance by The Orchestra of St. Luke's), Celebrate Brooklyn!, New York
  • 2014, Pan Gongkai and Clifford Ross: Alternate View, Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou, China
  • 2012, Clifford Ross and Richard Serra: Waves and Stacks, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 2012, Harmonium Mountain (screening of video with a live performance by Wu Tong), Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing
  • 2012, In Focus: Picturing Landscape, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • 2011, Coal + Ice, Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing
  • 2011, Ileana Sonnabend: An Italian Portrait, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
  • 2011, Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs, Morgan Library and Museum, New York
  • 2010, Waterways, Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts
  • 2010, Harmonium Mountain I (premiere of video, with an original score by Philip Glass), SITE Santa Fe, Eighth International Biennial, New Mexico
  • 2008, Clifford Ross and August Sander, Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne
  • 2007, Brasil des Focus, Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 2007, Il Faut Rendre À Cézanne, Collection Lambert en Avignon, Museum of Contemporary Art, Avignon, France
  • 2006, Andrew Wyeth and the American Landscape Tradition, Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • 2006, Ecotopia: The Second ICP Triennial of Photography and Video, International Center of Photography, New York    
  • 2006, New Acquisitions, Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 2004, Visions of America: Contemporary Art from the Essl Collection and the Sonnabend Collection New York, Sammlung Essl, Vienna
  • 2002, Photogenesis: Opus 2, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California
  • 2002, Visions from America: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American Art 1940 – 2001, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
  • 1998, Recent Acquisitions, International Center of Photography, New York
  • 1998, Waterproof, Centro Cultural de Belém: Expo '98, Lisbon
  • 1988, The 1980's: A New Generation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • 1981, Figuratively Sculpting, The Institute for Art & Urban Resources, PS1, New York


  1. ^ "Biography - Clifford Ross". Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  2. ^ "CLIFFORD ROSS with Phong Bui". Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  3. ^ Flam, Jack. “An Eyewitness Account.” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 58. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.    
  4. ^ Teicher, Jordan G. "What It’s Like to Stare a Hurricane Wave in the Face". WIRED. Retrieved 2017-05-31. 
  5. ^ Clifford Ross Studio (2017-02-07), CBS News: Photographer Sees the Big Picture, retrieved 2017-06-02 
  6. ^ "Badd-Ass Camera". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-06-02. 
  7. ^ "Cyclorama - Projects - Clifford Ross". Retrieved 2017-06-02. 
  8. ^ Ross, Clifford. “A Perfect Storm: Hurricanes and the Wave Cathedral.” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 175. Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.
  9. ^ admini, BRIC (2015-04-22). "The Musical World of Harmonium Mountain: Clifford Ross & The Orchestra of St. Luke's / Jeffrey Zeigler, Andy Akiho & Roger Bonair-Agard". BRIC. Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  10. ^ "Technology is Just Another Paintbrush: In Conversation with Pan Gongkai and Clifford Ross". Artsy. 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  11. ^ Knapp, Alex. "Old And New Tech Combine In An Artistic Masterpiece". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  12. ^ "Clifford Ross: Landscape Seen & Imagined | MASS MoCA". Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  13. ^ "CLIFFORD ROSS with Phong Bui". Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  14. ^ Flam, Jack. “An Eyewitness Account.” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 56. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.    
  15. ^ Teicher, Jordan G. "What It’s Like to Stare a Hurricane Wave in the Face". WIRED. Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  16. ^ Clarke, Jay A. “Intermediality and the Sublime.” Clifford Ross: Hurricane Waves, ed. by Jay. A Clarke, p. 18-19. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.
  17. ^ Schell, Orville. “Interview with Clifford Ross.” Clifford Ross: Hurricane Waves, ed. by Jay A. Clarke, p. 36. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.
  18. ^ Clarke, Jay A. “Intermediality and the Sublime.” Clifford Ross: Hurricane Waves, ed. by Jay A. Clarke, p. 20. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.
  19. ^ Bajac, Quentin. “Clifford Ross: Complete Realist?” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 263. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.
  20. ^ Danto, Arthur. “Hegel in the Hamptons: Clifford Ross’s Meditation on Photography and the World.” Wave Music, p. 3. New York: Aperture    
  21. ^ "BOMB Magazine — Wave Music by Clifford Ross". Retrieved 2017-07-07. 
  22. ^ Salamon, Julie (2004-12-09). "Tom Swift's New Camera, Ready for Space and Spies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-10. 
  23. ^ "Biography - Clifford Ross". Retrieved 2017-07-10. 
  24. ^ Bui, Phong. “The Anatomy and Objecthood of the Waves.’ Clifford Ross: Hurricane Waves, ed. Jay A. Clarke, p. 5. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.    
  25. ^ Bajac, Quentin. “Clifford Ross: Complete Realist?” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 264. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.
  26. ^ "CLIFFORD ROSS with Phong Bui". Retrieved 2017-07-10. 
  27. ^ "Wu Tong: Song of the Sheng". Asia Society. Retrieved 2017-07-10. 
  28. ^ Knapp, Alex. "Old And New Tech Combine In An Artistic Masterpiece". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-06-16. 
  29. ^ Ross, Clifford. “Photography and Wood: The Odd Couple.” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 306-7. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.    
  30. ^ "CLIFFORD ROSS with Phong Bui". Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  31. ^ admini, BRIC (2015-05-27). "Clifford Ross: Water | Waves | Wood". BRIC. Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  32. ^ "Clifford Ross: Landscape Seen & Imagined | MASS MoCA". Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  33. ^ "CLIFFORD ROSS with Phong Bui". Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  34. ^ McVey, Kurt (2015-05-13). "Clifford Ross's Wave Mechanics". T Magazine. Retrieved 2017-07-06. 
  35. ^ Ross, Clifford. “A Perfect Storm.” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 176. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.
  36. ^ Anfam, David. “Parts of a World.” Seen & Imagined: The World of Clifford Ross, ed. by Jay A. Clarke and Joseph Thompson, p. 256. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2015.    

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