“He was one of the singlely great photography curators of his generation,” said Eearl A. Powell, director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, who hired Sobieszek when Powell was LACMA’s director. Sobieszek has become the epitome of an imaginative and revered curator of photography. Holding graduate degrees in art history from Columbia University and Stanford University, Sobieszek lectured and published widely on photography for over three decades.
Before joining the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1990 as the Curator of Photography, he was the Senior Curator in charge of the photographic collections at the George Eastman House, in New York. He has organized over 50 exhibitions, including LACMA’s Robert Smithson: Photo Works and The Camera I: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection, both of which have traveled to several venues with accompanying catalogues.
Over the next 15 years, he increased the size of the LACMA’s collection from 2,700 to more than 8,300 photographs through gifts and acquisitions of work that emphasized contemporary artists like David Hockney and Cindy Sherman. In 1992, he inaugurated a series of permanent collection exhibitions entitled New Acquisitions/New Work//New Directions and in 1995, with Tim Wride, he organized P.L.A.N.: Photography Los Angeles Now, which became LACMA’s first Internet exhibition catalogue. His catalogue and exhibition, Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts, was a popular and critical success, followed by his project, “Ghost in the Shell”—Photography and the Human Soul, 1850-2000, of 1999-2000.
Sobieszek served as a defense witness in the famed Robert Mapplethorpe Trial in Cincinnati and on the museum’s Ethics Committee and Exhibitions Task Force, ultimately convincing the jury that the homoerotic images were art and not pornography.
Robert Sobieszek passed away July 15, 2005 at the age of 62 in Los Angeles. Sobieszek has left behind a rich and beautiful legacy in the world of photography collections.