Drew Sawyer is an art historian and a curator. He is the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Curator of Photography at the Brooklyn Museum, and has previously held curatorial positions at the Columbus Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Chazen Museum of Art. He holds a Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology from Columbia University with a specialization in North American art. His doctoral dissertation is a critical reexamination of the work of Walker Evans that explores the politics of authorship, institutional contexts, and pictorial style in documentary practices from the early 1930s to the early 1970s.
Sawyer’s writings and curatorial projects cover a range of topics, from the origins of the social documentary tradition in the U.S. to contemporary photographic practices, and he is a regular contributor to scholarly volumes, exhibition catalogues, journals, and magazines, including Aperture, Artforum, and Mousse. He is also a contributing editor at Document Journal and OSMOS.
He has worked on exhibitions that explored the work of Bill Brandt, Horacio Coppola, Walker Evans, Robert Heinecken, Zoe Leonard, Grete Stern and more. His exhibitions accompanied by books include Art after Stonewall, 1969 to 1989 (2019); I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 (2018); Red Horizon: Contemporary Art and Photography in the USSR and Russia, 1960-2010 (2017); Golden State (2017); The Sun Placed in the Abyss (2016), and 'Social Forces Visualized': Photography and Scientific Charity, 1900-1920 (2011). Other recent exhibitions include Isaac Julien: Looking for Langston (2018); Family Pictures (2018); Kojo Kamau (2017); Allan Sekula: Aerospace Folktales and Other Stories (2017); Gathered: Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Collection and Works by Carmen Winant and Luke Stettner (2016); and Lucy Raven: Low Relief (2016).
Sawyer has taught at Columbia University and Image Text Ithaca MFA Program. He has recently hosted or participated in talks with artists Basma Alsharif, John Divola, John Edmonds, David Horvitz, Mary Lucier, Lisa Oppenheim, Karol Radziszewski, Lucy Raven, Cameron Rowland, and AL Steiner. In 2017, he co-organized with Sarah Miller a two day symposium, “Reinventing Documentary Photography in the 1970s," which included contributions by Katherine Bussard, David Campany, Heather Diack, Nicholas Frobes-Cross, David Hartt, Solveig Nelson, Jorge Ribalta, Robert Slifkin, and Siona Wilson.
At the Columbus Museum of Art, Sawyer helped conceive of and receive major funding for the Center for Art and Social Engagement.