Issue #168  1/6/2010
Calif. Conceptual Photographer Larry Sultan Dies of Cancer

Conceptual artist Larry Sultan died at his home in Greenbrae, CA, last month due to cancer. He was 63.

Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Sultan was raised mostly in the suburban San Fernando Valley of California, after his father moved the family to the Los Angeles area in 1949.

He earned a BA in political science from the University of California at Santa Barbara (1968) and an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute (1973). He was the recipient of a U.S. State Department International Arts and Lectures Grant (2000); four National Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowships (1977, 1980, 1986 and 1992) and an Art in Public Places Grant (1976); and a Guggenheim Fellowship (1983).

Sultan's first major project was a collaboration with the artist Mike Mandel, which consisted of a book of appropriated photographs titled "Evidence" and a subsequent exhibition organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1977. The "found" pictures came from the files of government agencies, corporations and research organizations, and offered a droll, provocative look at contemporary American culture.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Sultan began work on a project about his mother and his father, who had been forced into early retirement. Like other bodies of work by Sultan, this one played off truth against fiction. As Sandra Phillips, senior photography curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, notes about other of Sultan's works, "The true subject of Sultan's pictures is how photography is used in the construction of that fantasy."

From 1992 to 1996 the traveling exhibition "Larry Sultan: Pictures from Home" was shown at Bronx Museum of Art, New York; Scottsdale Center for the Arts, Scottsdale, Arizona; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Chicago Cultural Center; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; and San Jose Museum of Art, California.

Drawing from his environment once again, Sultan produced a coffee-table photography 2004 book called "The Valley" that explored the conversion of LA-area suburban homes into porn sets. At the same time the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was again the first venue for these photographs by Sultan.

He was a distinguished professor at California College of the Arts (CAA) in both the undergraduate photography program and the graduate program in fine arts, and had taught at CCA since 1988.

His work is part of numerous public collections, including those of the Art Institute of Chicago; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, AZ; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.