The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Trustee Larry Sultan passed away Sunday, December 13, 2009, due to complications from cancer. Raised in the San Fernando Valley, Sultan studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, and, though he has made Northern California his home, his work has consistently engaged the culture of Southern California.
“Larry Sultan was one of the most intriguing and challenging artists of our time. In his work he navigated a unique course, creating bodies of work that hover tantalizingly between portraiture, fashion, and commercial work on the one hand, and the most sophisticated conceptual practice on the other. SFMOMA maintained an invaluable relationship with Larry and his work, as through the years he was exhibited in 14 exhibitions here and at the time of his death he was a member of our Board of Trustees. He will be profoundly missed,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra.
Sultan was a leading figure in the Bay Area art community, both as an artist and a teacher. For more than 30 years, he explored the boundaries of documentary practice. His first major work was Evidence, a book of appropriated photographs that was a collaborative project with artist Mike Mandel; a subsequent exhibition was organized by SFMOMA in 1977. These pictures came from the files of government agencies, local corporations, and research institutions and, assembled in the narrative format of a book, produced a witty, provocative, and insightful look at contemporary American culture.
In 1992 Sultan compiled the book and accompanying exhibition Pictures from Home (1982–91), which approaches the meaning of family and home through the artist’s own photographs, extensive diaristic writing, family artifacts, and stills from his parents’ home movies. The photos in Pictures from Home engage ideas of truth, fantasy, and artifice.
In 2004 SFMOMA organized the exhibition Larry Sultan: The Valley, which examined the adult film industry and the Valley’s middle-class tract homes that serve as pornographic film sets. SFMOMA holds some 20 of Sultan’s works in its collection, as well as several joint works by the artist and his wife Kelly. He received SFMOMA’s Bay Area Treasure Award in 2005.
Sultan joined SFMOMA’s Board of Trustees in 2009 as SFMOMA’s second Artist Trustee, following painter Robert Bechtle. The Artist Trustee represents the artist community and gives counsel to the Board from an artist’s perspective. The Artist Trustee serves for a fixed term of three years, and the position is nonrenewable. The Artist Trustee is selected from a community of artists who represent the areas of SFMOMA’s collection—painting and sculpture, photography, architecture and design, and media arts.
Sultan’s work will be on view from December 19, 2009, to January 16, 2011, in The Anniversary Show, an exhibition organized in honor of SFMOMA’s 75th anniversary that traces the art and individuals that have made SFMOMA the institution it is today. His work is also included in The View from Here (January 16 through June 27, 2010), another anniversary exhibition that explores the vitality and diversity of California’s indigenous photography tradition from SFMOMA’s perspective.
As a tribute to SFMOMA’s 75th anniversary, Sultan collaborated with the museum and the Gap to create a limited-edition T-shirt, one of several artist-designed shirts in a commemorative apparel line featuring original imagery by artists who have worked closely with SFMOMA over the years. Sultan has also participated in SFMOMA’s 75th anniversary advertising campaign. The campaign celebrates the emotional connections between people and works of art and features 10 iconic artworks from SFMOMA’s collection, including Sultan’s My Mother Posing for Me, from the series Pictures from Home (1984), along with an equal number of individuals from the Bay Area creative community.