Abe Morell: A New Way to Look at Art

It should come as no surprise that Abe Morell cites de Chirico as an influence on his photography.

Or that he favors the Surrealists, Magritte and Cezanne as well.

He spends a great deal of his time in museums, seeking ways to rearrange the way we see paintings and galleries in his work.

“It’s not like being a bad boy and changing the paintings,” says Morell, who earned his MFA in Fine Art from Yale in the 1970s. “I use their energy to make something new out of them – and to be an architect, a painter and an artist all at once.”

His newest photographs, on display at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, were taken at the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of The Fine Arts.

Taking on the role of an ad hoc curator, Morell creates unexpected conversations through a choreography with art objects. He likes to tour a museum and take mental notes on how to remake the paintings – by juxtaposing them in new ways, and re-envisioning the gallery spaces themselves.

“It’s like playing architect,” he says. “It’s a new take on the museum experience.”

He says that he’s constantly thinking about how to remake whatever he’s seeing. “I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas,” he says. “As I get older, I have the curse of nonstop energy.”

He’s been shooting intuitively since 1969, when he enrolled at Bowdoin College in Maine, initially intent on becoming an engineer. He took one course in photography, and that immediately altered the arc of his career path.

He’s an admirer of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus and Helen Levit, but ultimately, it’s the paintings that influence him most.

“I love the surfaces of paintings,” he says. “And I want to revitalize how a painting looks in photographs.”

Over the years, he’s become a master of that.

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