Begining of page content anchor Top of page anchor
Elaine de Kooning – 1960. Photo by Rudolph Burckhardt

The Women of Abstract Expressionism

In my last post, I mentioned an exhibition of abstract paintings by the women of the 40’s and 50’s entitled “The Women of Abstract Expressionism”.  I was THERE in the late 50’s, and I did know many of the artists included in the show. Like just about everyone else, however, I was enamored and smitten by the “guys”—Rothko, Pollock, Kline, De Kooning, Gottlieb and Stamos.

It wasn’t until the early 70’s, when I began representing Audrey Flack, that I was made aware that women were not given a fair amount of coverage and promotion in those early days. AND a few years later, I tried to do a little something about it…

Audrey Flack, “Queen”, 1976, acrylic on canvas

I was at a symposium in Milwaukee where I was part of a panel on Realism. The famed art historian, H.W. Janson, was on a different panel. At the time, Janson’s textbook “History of Art: A Survey of the Major Visual Arts from the Dawn of History to the Present Day” was the preeminent text for Art History students. I had to buy and study the first edition in the only art class I ever took at Tulane University, New Orleans.

H.W. Janson’s “History of Art”

At the time, female artists had a major issue with this book. For while it purported to tell the complete history of art, no women’s work was illustrated, nor even MENTIONED! The second edition had just been published… and still, no updates had been made to include any female artists.

Janson and I were seated next to each other at dinner that evening. As a young art dealer, I guess it was kind of gutsy of me to bring up the subject of female artists, knowing it was certainly not the first time he heard this, but Janson went into an explanation that made SOME sense. He said, we should primarily just look at the last 100 years, as these decades were the most relevant to this discussion. For brevity’s sake, only three artists are named per movement in his texts. SO:

From each movement, who are the three major artists?

With the Impressionists, you must choose from Cezanne, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, Pissarro…

Post-Impressionists: Van Gogh, Gaugin, Matisse, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec…

Cubists: Picasso, Léger, Braque…

Surrealists: Dalí, Magritte, Tanguy, Ernst, De Chirico…

The Abstract Expressionists: Pollock, Kline, Rothko, De Kooning, Gotlieb…

and the Pop artists: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Wesselmann, Newman, Still…

Well those were all HIS opinions, and of course it was HIS book, and it was hard to argue with him if ONLY 3 artists were to be mentioned per movement. BUT NOW it was MY turn, and I got to speak about Photorealism.

There always have been three distinct branches of realist painting: portraiture, landscape and still life (faces, places and things).  Well, in Photorealism, the faces were indisputably mastered by Chuck Close, the landscapes are definitely Richard Estes, AND the still life painter in THIS genre is Audrey Flack. Well, when Janson’s third edition was published in the eighties, Flack was discussed AND illustrated!

H.W. Janson’s “History of Art” – Third Edition,
featuring Audrey Flack’s “Queen”

But I digress… I have a few last words about the Palm Springs Museum exhibition “Women of Abstract Expressionism”.

The show was astounding, and the paintings of about 15 women were shown. Almost all names we NOW know were THERE and were as early, and as good as the men. And as I said, I did know them back then.  The show was GENDER based, but well curated and mounted. It really put the work in perspective; it did a great service to what women have done, what they are capable of doing, and that they are equal to men.

Posted In: