Frederick Sommer (1905-1999) was an artistic polymath, with deep interests in painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and collage. With his work he intended to engage the world formally, to harvest its chance gifts, decontextualizing and rearranging found images and objects according to often shocking visual affinities. The artist played with a wide variety of forms, textures and scale to create startling compositions amid objects and sites others found too insignificant to notice. Sommer was intent on expanding the limits of where beauty could be found, and after viewing a display of original musical scores, he began to formulate his own theories correlating the graphic design to the sound of musical scores. Alongside many great artists of the period including Edward Weston, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Aaron Siskind, Sommer created a unique and avant-garde body of work formulated from his interest in Surrealism.


Born in 1905 in Angri, Italy, Sommer was raised in Rio de Janeiro, and exposed to art and landscape architecture at an early age. He completed his studies at Cornell University, graduating with a Masters of Arts degree in Landscape Architecture. By his early 30s, Sommer took a trip to Switzerland for health reasons and began his explorations in multiple artistic disciplines. In 1974 Sommer received the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. He died in 1999 at the age of 93 in Prescott, Arizona where he and his wife Frances Sommer had lived since 1936. His legacy lives on at the Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation. Since 2010, Bruce Silverstein has organized two major retrospectives of his work.


His works have been exhibited by the world’s most important institutions, including the George Eastman House, Rochester; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Delaware Art Museum; Serpentine Gallery, London; Charles Egan Gallery, New York; Philadelphia College of Art; Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington D.C.; Pasadena Art Museum, California; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Institute of Design, Chicago; Zimmergalerie Franck, Germany; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Work by the artist is represented in major museum collections internationally such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Maison Europeene de la Photographie; George Eastman House, Rochester; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Sommer’s work has been published widely. Noteworthy publications include Frederick Sommer: Photography, Drawing, Collage (2005), The Mistress of the World Has No Name: Where Images Come From (1987), Frederick Sommer at Seventy Five, a Retrospective (1980), and Venus, Jupiter and Mars: The Photographs of Frederick Sommer (1980).

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