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Sid Grossman

Main Gallery

January 12 – February 11

About the Panelists: 


Keith F. Davis has worked as a photography curator and historian for nearly forty years. After overseeing the Hallmark Photographic Collection, beginning in 1979, he became the founding curator of photography in 2006 –and is now senior curator –at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Davis is the author of many books, including The Life and Work of Sid Grossman (2016).


John Jacob is the McEvoy Family Curator of Photography at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Jacob has previously worked as the Vice President and Director of the Inge Morath Foundation and the Program Director for the Legacy Program at the Magnum Foundation. His research interests include American vernacular photography, social history, and women photographers. He has authored publications on Inge Morath, Ernst Haas and the Martha Cooper Collection, among others.


Sy Kattelson studied with Sid Grossman and Paul Strand, and is known for his association with New York’s famed Photo League. Kattelson's photographs are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; The National Gallery of Canada; and The Musee d'Art Moderne, Saint Etienne, France. 


Anne Wilkes Tucker is a leading expert on The Photo League and Sid Grossman, having organized and categorized his archive after his death. In 1981 she curated the in-depth retrospective, Sidney Grossman Photographs: 1936–1955 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) where she served as the founding curator for 39 years and oversaw the museum’s photography collection grow from 141 works to 24,000.




Bob Shamis has edited and authored multiple publications for the Howard Greenberg Gallery / Steidl imprint including The Life and Work of Sid Grossman (2016), Leon Levinstein (2014), and Saul Leiter: Early Black and White (2014). Shamis previously worked as a curator at the Museum of the City of New York.

Press Release

The first solo exhibition in 30 years to explore the legacy of Sid Grossman (1913 – 1955) will be on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery from January 12 – February 11, 2017. The exhibition coincides with the publication of a new monograph, The Life and Work of Sid Grossman, published by Steidl/Howard Greenberg Library, with an essay by the curator and photo historian Keith F. Davis. An opening exhibition will be held on Thursday, January 12, from 6 to 8 p.m.


In a short career, ended by his untimely death at age 42, New York native Sid Grossman left an indelible mark as an artist and teacher on the photography of his era and beyond. In 1936, Grossman and his friend Sol Libsohn co-founded the Photo League, the left-leaning, socially conscious photographers’ cooperative and school. Photographing at a very close distance and using blur and off-kilter compositions, Grossman’s work of the late 1940s anticipates the work of many better known street photographers of the 1950s and 60s.  



“Grossman’s vision of creative photography changed the lives of many around him and resulted in a body of work of major historical importance,” Davis writes in the book. Among the many photographers who were taught or influenced directly by Grossman are Sy Kattelson, Leon Levinstein, and Lisette Model. More broadly, traits of Grossman’s work and philosophy can be seen in the work of Ted Croner, Roy DeCarava, Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, William Klein, and Saul Leiter as well as Garry Winogrand and a younger generation of 1960s artists.


The exhibition surveys 35 photographs by Grossman, from his own neighborhood of Chelsea, to Little Italy and Coney Island, as well as in Central America during World War II, while serving as a photographer in the U.S. Army.


While stationed in Panama during the War, Grossman honed his skills with the use of a top quality photography lab as a public relations photographer for the Air Corps. A jumping girl in a white dress made in Panama in 1945 is filled with exuberance. The graininess and blurriness of the image underscores the emotional vitality of the subject, a pivotal moment that would lead to a new way of thinking by American street photographers.


Some of Grossman’s best known work was made in Coney Island during the summers of 1947 and 1948. His groups of sunbathers gathering together and performing for the camera are visceral and dynamic. As Davis notes, “They are remarkable pictures—at once richly humane and bursting with graphic energy. The subject was perfect for Grossman: Coney Island was a landscape of human flesh, an endless index of physical gesture, contact, and vulnerability.”


Made during the same 1947-48 period, his powerful image of a slightly blurred boy with a mask and a toy gun playing next to a crumbling brick wall has a similar energy and physicality, yet alludes to man’s darker nature.


In April 1949, Grossman’s career was hit by an extraordinary turn of events, from which it would never recover. A fellow member of the Photo League, Angela Calomiris, was revealed to be an undercover FBI agent and testified against Grossman, asserting that he had introduced her to the Communism. As Davis explains in the book, “In this deeply shameful era of American political history, personal reputations were tarnished or destroyed on the basis of hearsay or uncorroborated undercover reports.”


Grossman never again photographed on the streets of New York. He spent time in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he continued to make pictures, and later made a group of images of New York City Ballet dancers. His public exhibitions in museums and galleries ended mostly in 1948. He died of a heart attack in December of 1955. In modern American photography, no greater career has been cut off so prematurely. Work by Sid Grossman can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


The exhibition will include a small selection of work by some of Sid Grossman’s students including Rebecca Lepkoff, Leon Levinstein, Marvin Newman, and Ruth Orkin.


A companion exhibition with work by Sy Kattelson, a student and close friend of Sid Grossman, will be on view at Howard Greenberg Gallery Two, next to the main gallery, also from January 12 – February 11, 2017.