Sarah Charlesworth

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Sarah Charlesworth
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Sarah Edwards Charlesworth

(1947-03-29)March 29, 1947
DiedJune 25, 2013(2013-06-25) (aged 66)
EducationBradford College and Barnard College
Known forConceptual art
(m. 1983⁠–⁠2010)
AwardsJohn Simon Guggenheim Fellowship Award, Visual Art (1995)

Sarah Edwards Charlesworth (March 29, 1947 – June 25, 2013) was an American conceptual artist and photographer. She is considered part of The Pictures Generation, a loose-knit group of artists working in New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s, all of whom were concerned with how images shape our everyday lives and society as a whole.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Charlesworth was born in East Orange, New Jersey. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College in 1969. Her undergraduate thesis project, a work of conceptual art devoid of text, was a 50-print study of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.[3] Prior to that she studied under Douglas Huebler at Bradford College.[4] After completing her degree, she studied briefly under the photographer Lisette Model at The New School.[4] After college, she worked as a freelance photographer and became active in downtown Manhattan art circles.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Charlesworth had two children with her former husband, filmmaker Amos Poe; Nicholas T. Poe (b. 1985) and Sarah-Lucy C. Poe (b. 1988).[6]


Charlesworth worked in photographic series, but stated in a 1990 interview that she had not really thought of herself as a photographer.[7] She stated, rather, that she viewed her work as investigating questions about the world and her role in it, but realized as of that point that she had been investigating those questions through the medium of photography for the past twelve years.[7]

In 1975, Charlesworth and fellow conceptual artists Michael Corris, Preston Heller, Joseph Kosuth, Andrew Menard, and Mel Ramsden founded The Fox, a magazine dedicated to art theory, but the magazine only remained in publication until 1976.[4] Along with Glenn O'Brien, Betsy Sussler, Liza Bear, and Michael McClard, she co-founded BOMB magazine in 1981.[8][9] Charlesworth also created the cover art for the very first edition of BOMB magazine.[8]

Charlesworth worked in series, exploring one idea to its conclusion.[10] For a series called Modern History (1977–79), she photographed, at actual size, the front pages of 29 American and Canadian newspapers[11] and blanked out everything except for their photographs and mastheads.[6] For Movie-Television-News-History (1979), a part of the series, Charlesworth selected a specific event – the shooting of American journalist Bill Stewart by the Nicaraguan National Guard – and presented it as it was reported on June 21, 1979, in 27 American newspapers. All images in the final work were printed at the same size as the original newspapers.[12]

In February 1980, Charlesworth created Stills, a series of harrowing, six-and-a-half-foot-tall photographs depicting bodies falling from buildings.[13] When Stills was first shown in 1980 in Tony Shafrazi's East Village apartment, it consisted of seven images. To create the series, Charlesworth scoured news wires and the archives of the New York Public Library for images of people plunging through the air, having jumped out of a windows to commit suicide or because of a catastrophe like fire. After appropriating the photograph, she would crop or tear it, often leaving the edges ragged so that it appeared to be haphazardly torn like a homemade clipping. She would then rephotograph the image and enlarge it. Charlesworth later expanded the series, printing an eighth work from her original source material in 2009 and – as a commission of the Art Institute of Chicago – creating a set of six new ones from the original transparencies that were never printed. Each gelatin silver print was made and mounted to the exact specifications of those she created in 1980.[14]

In her "Objects of Desire" series (1983–1988), Cibachrome prints of appropriated images – typically a cutout picture of a single object, including a gold bowl and a statue of a Buddha – are photographed against bright, laminated monochrome backgrounds that match their lacquered frames.[11][15]

In the series Renaissance Paintings and Renaissance Drawings (both 1991), Charlesworth combined imagery from disparate Italian Renaissance paintings and drawings to make new, often ironic paintings and drawings.[3]

Charlesworth began to photograph actual objects only in the early 1990s.[6] Her series The Academy of Secrets is Charlesworth's attempt to convey her emotions through using abstracted images of objects that have symbolic associations.[7] She illustrated how the way light falls on objects affects our perceptions of them as the subject of her own 2012 solo exhibition Available Light.[16]

Charlesworth held various teaching positions at New York University, the School of Visual Arts, and Hartford University. Before her death she taught Master Critique in the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Program and The School of Visual Arts. A major influence on a new generation of artists, including Sara VanDerBeek and Liz Deschenes, she was appointed to the faculty of Princeton University in 2012.[5][17]


She lived and worked both in New York City and in Falls Village, Connecticut, at the time of her death.[15] Charlesworth died of a brain aneurysm on June 25, 2013, at the age of 66.[6]


Charlesworth's work was the subject of more than 40 solo exhibitions at venues including the Centre d'art contemporain, Geneva (1977), the Queens Museum of Art, New York (1992), and the Art Institute of Chicago (2014).[3] A 1998 survey organized by SITE Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico, toured to four additional museums.[6][13] Her work was included in the Whitney Biennial (1985) and the Venice Biennale (1986). In 1995, she cocurated Somatogenies at New York's Artists Space with fellow artists Cindy Sherman and Laurie Simmons.[3]


Charlesworth's work is included in the collections of many museums around the world,[18] including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art: the Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Pérez Art Museum Miami, Florida;[19] Brooklyn Museum; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Israel Museum; and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, among others.[20] In 2012, the Art Institute of Chicago acquired the complete series (14 photographs) of her over-lifesize series Stills (1980), and in that year as well, the Museum of Modern Art acquired her 27-photo piece Movie-Television-News-History (1979).[5] Her work is also included in many university collections including the Princeton University Art Museum, Yale University Art Gallery and Berkeley Art Museum.[21]


Charlesworth received several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1980, 1983) as well as from the New York State Creative Artists Public Service (1977) and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship Award for Visual Art (1995).


  1. ^ "The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984". Yale University Press. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  2. ^ Salz, Jerry. "Great Artists Steal". Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Sarah Charlesworth Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
  4. ^ a b c "Sarah Charlesworth". Guggenheim: Collections Online. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Katya Kazakina (June 29, 2013), Sarah Charlesworth Leaves Magic Images, Beloved Garden Bloomberg.
  6. ^ a b c d e Smith, Roberta (June 30, 2013). Sarah Charlesworth, Artist of Deconstructed Photographs, Dies at 66, The New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Sussler, Betsy. "Sarah Charlesworth". BOMB Magazine. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  8. ^ a b McClister, Nell. "BOMB Magazine: Celebrating 25 Years", BOMB, Retrieved 13 October 2014.
  9. ^ Phaidon Editors (2019). Great women artists. Phaidon Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0714878775. {{cite book}}: |last1= has generic name (help)
  10. ^ Christopher Knight (April 22, 1998), An Artist Taking Pictures (Literally) Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ a b Roberta Smith (June 25, 2015), Review: ‘Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld’ Studies Perceptions Shaped by Photography New York Times.
  12. ^ Lucy Gallun (November 15, 2013), Unwriting: Sarah Charlesworth Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  13. ^ a b Sarah Charlesworth: Stills, September 18, 2014 - January 4, 2015 Art Institute of Chicago.
  14. ^ Carol Vogel (September 12, 2014), Hurtling Bodies, Frozen in Time: ‘Stills,’ by Sarah Charlesworth New York Times.
  15. ^ a b Deborah Solomon (June 26, 2015), Recalling Sarah Charlesworth’s Photographs New York Times.
  16. ^ Smith, Roberta (March 29, 2012). "Sarah Charlesworth: 'Available Light'". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  17. ^ Sarah Charlesworth, Lewis Center for the Arts Archived December 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine Princeton University.
  18. ^ Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Sarah Charlesworth Brooklyn Museum.
  19. ^ "Figures • Pérez Art Museum Miami". Pérez Art Museum Miami. Retrieved August 23, 2023.
  20. ^ "Sarah Charlesworth: CV" (PDF). Brooklyn Museum Feminist Art Base. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  21. ^ Award-winning photographer and educator Sarah Charlesworth dies; June 28, 2013 Princeton University.

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