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Producing Digital Knowledge about Analog Art: The Case of Frederick Sommer

Naomi Lyons and Jeremy Cox, trustees, Frederick & Frances Sommer Foundation; and Ksenya Gurshtein, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, National Gallery of Art. For the last five years, Jeremy Cox and Naomi Lyons have been building an online catalogue raisonné of American artist Frederick Sommer (1905-1999), whose work explored an unusually broad array of subjects ranging from disorienting landscapes and macabre aspects of the natural world to surreal arrangements of found objects and virtual abstractions. Ksenya Gurshtein curated the exhibition A World of Bonds: Frederick Sommer’s Photography and Friendships, on view at the National Gallery of Art from June 16 through August 4, 2013. Drawn largely from the Gallery’s collection, which includes significant works gifted by the artist himself in 1995, the exhibition showcased not only the beauty and diversity of Sommer’s striking images but put them in dialogue with the work of artist-friends who helped shape his vision. As a supplement to this temporary onsite exhibition, Gurshtein created a scholarly digital introduction to Sommer and his 35 photographs in the collection as a permanent feature of the Gallery’s website. In this lecture recorded on March 31, 2014, as part of the Gallery’s Works in Progress lecture series, Lyons, Cox, and Gurshtein reflect on their reasons for and experiences with using digital formats to produce scholarship, considering the ways in which they influence the knowledge available about a given artist, open up new ways of approaching and conveying a particular artist’s sensibility, and affect our experience of analog art.