“Women, Women! (Of the ’50s)”

 September 15 thru November 12, 2016
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 15th, 6-8 PM


Before any exhibit on “Women” or “Older Artists” was on the horizon, the Anita Shapolsky Gallery celebrated them with the exhibition “Over 85 – Still Creating” (Amaranth Ehrenhalt, 88, Sonia Gechtoff, 89, and Liz Whitney Quisgard, 86) from December 10, 2015 through March 18, 2016.

Sadly, there were no reviews even though our gallery has been in existence since 1982 and we feature abstract artists of the ‘50s.

The Anita Shapolsky Gallery is pleased to present Women! Women! (of the ‘50’s), a comprehensive collection of works by women abstract expressionists who exhibited in the 1950’s. The fifteen women in this exhibition acted as pioneers in their field, each of them carving a unique space in a male-dominated art world. The Anita Shapolsky Gallery has been exhibiting these artists since the ‘80’s. More than sixty years after the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, the art produced by these women remains relevant, modern, and highly individualized. Women! Women! is a celebration of these influential artists. The Gallery is proud and excited to devote a show entirely to showcasing their talents and innovations. Two of the artists in the exhibition, Ethel Schwabacher and Sonia Gechtoff, are currently featured at the Denver Art Museum as a part of its Women of Abstract Expressionism show, which will be traveling for two years. All of the women represented in the show are in major museum collections.

Gallery One will feature the work of Ethel Schwabacher, a New York artist who studied independently under Arshile Gorky. Her surrealist-inspired abstract paintings explore themes of nature, maternity, and psychology. Using a bold palette of complementary colors and loose brushstrokes, Schwabacher’s paintings are explorations of her own psyche. She drew her influences from Greek themes and myths, Freudian theories of dream states and the unconscious, as well as Surrealist canons. More than just a painter, Schwabacher channeled her creativity through writing as well. In 1951, she wrote the catalog for the Whitney Museum’s memorial exhibition for Arshile Gorky, and in 1957 she published the first comprehensive monograph on the artist, which included a biography and her personal critiques. She also published various writings on her own paintings in which she elaborated on her process and motivations.

Gallery Two will display the works of fourteen female abstract expressionists, whose artwork ranges from painting to sculpture to mosaics. Lynne Drexler was a vibrant colorist who favored primary colors. Her short, clustered brushstrokes give the perception of luminosity and airiness. Amaranth Ehrenhalt lived for many years in Paris. Her action paintings appear dynamic and playful, marked by a loose and energetic handling of paint. Emerging from the New York School, Grace Hartigan excelled at finding new approaches for depicting light, space, and form. She was considered one of the most accomplished women painters of her time. Claire Falkenstein and Sonia Gechtoff were both west coast-based artists. Falkenstein was a prominent sculptor, printmaker, painter, and jewelry designer. One of her greatest accomplishments was the construction of The New Gates of Paradise, located at the entrance of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Italy. Gechtoff learned how to paint from her father, and her early works are done in a Social Realist style. Around 1950, however, she familiarized herself with the work of Clyfford Still and became influenced to create highly abstract, large-scale, gestural paintings. Ernest Briggs, a student of Clyfford Still, guided Gechtoff in Still’s unique approach to abstraction. Perle Fine derived much of her inspiration from Hans Hoffman and Piet Mondrian. Consequently, her work is characterized by combining two opposing styles: loose, gestural brushstrokes, with sharp, geometric forms and patterns. Buffie Johnson was a versatile artist who produced a range of styles during her lifetime. The common thread uniting her work is a powerful sense of spirituality, and an intense and focused use of color and form. Also a spiritualist, Jeanne Miles created highly geometric mandalas that reflected her interest in mysticism. Her circular paintings and vivid colors invite the viewer to contemplate universal mysteries. Louise Nevelson is considered one of the most significant American sculptors. Using primarily old pieces of wood and found objects, her abstract arrangements appear complex yet rhythmic. Betty Parsons, thought to be the “godmother of Abstract Expressionism,” created paintings in the fifties that showcased her avant-garde influences from the late forties. Her artistic process went through many evolutions during her career. In the early 1950’s she began making abstract constructions using pieces of wood that she found near her home in Long Island. Liz Whitney Quisgard finds her inspiration from Oriental carpets, Byzantine mosaics, and Navajo textiles. Her final pieces are executed with dazzling pointillism, creating a visual energy out of miniscule details, patterns, and shapes. Jeanne Reynal revolutionized the art of mosaics by thoughtfully leaving spaces of varying widths between the tiles, instilling her pieces with a sense of light. She believed that “the medium of mosaic is not painting with stones and not sculpture, but an art the essential quality of which is luminosity.” Yvonne Thomas was born in France and moved to America to study at Cooper Union, the Art Students League, and the Subject of the Artist school. She studied alongside renowned abstract painters such as Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell. Her paintings combine aspects of both color field painting and gestural abstraction. Finally, Stella Waitzkin studied painting under Hans Hoffman and Willem de Kooning, however she took her work in another direction. Pursuing her interest in installation art and sculpture, Waitzkin used resin to make molds of objects from her personal life, most often books. By producing beautiful books that could not be read, Waitzkin forced the viewer to reevaluate the object as a more complex, multi-dimensional construction.

Despite their drive and artistic abilities, these women too often slipped into the shadows of their male contemporaries during the height of Abstract Expressionism, which was falsely considered a “man’s movement.” We are delighted to put in the spotlight these artists who were ignobly treated and dismissed for being women, and give them the attention and exposure that they deserve.

Catalogs available for sale, for inquiries please email us at anitashapolsky@gmail.com


“Abstract 50’s Masters (Where Were the Mistresses?)”

Saturday, November 19th – Saturday, February 25th
Opening Reception:  Saturday, November 19th, 4-6 PM

Abstract art has roots in the late 19th century and reached ascendance in the late 40’s – 50’s. Philip Pavia (sculptor), one of the leaders of “the Club and his publication “It is” was seminal in the championing of abstract art. Our exhibition emphasizes the pluralistic nature of abstraction: gesture, geometric, and introspection.

Abstract expressionism uses gesture and was an important development in abstract art (Action painting). Most of the artists began traditionally using grids and sketches, as they were taught. They went on to their individual development where the act and thought was important rather than the space that was there. Our artists are considered mainly 2nd generation abstract expressionists. They were lucky to have the guidance of the stars of the first generation. Some of our artists went to the Art Students League and others took classes with the master artists. Many of them belonged to “the Club” and led to the organizing of the Ninth Street show in 1951 which unified the downtown artists and connected them to the public. The annual exhibits continued uptown at the Stable Gallery from 1951-1957.
Gallery 1:
Peter Agostini, Seymour Boardman, Ilya Bolotowsky, James Brooks, Lawrence Calcagno, Nassos Daphnis, Beauford Delaney, Friedel Dzubas, Jimmy Ernst, Joseph Fiore, John Hultberg, Ibraam Lassaw,
Michael Loew, Leonard Nelson, Joe Overstreet, Phillip Pavia, Misha Reznikoff, Richards Rubens,
Thomas Sills & Wilfrid Zogbaum.

Peter Agostini was known as a Plaster Master. He created evocative and lyrical sculptures. The “Saracen” is one of his few bronzes, another copy is in the Smithsonian Museum. Seymour Boardman created contemplative landscapes. His work reduced complicated image to its essence through a simple play with basic color planes while the original background, color lines pierce, bend and twist the negative space. Ilya Bolotowsky was a prolific artist involved in painting, sculptures and mural production. His visually ordered works reveal the influence of Piet Mondrian’s geometry. James Brooks stated that “My painting starts with a complication on the canvas surface, done with as much spontaneity and as little memory as possible. This then exists as the subject. It is as strange as a new still life arrangement as confusing as any unfamiliar situation”. Lawrence Calcagno with the use of linear brush strokes created meditative and colorful landscapes. Nassos Daphnis observed that “nature works in order to create form in an orderly fashion”. His works, often combined exhibited as site-specific installations, mirror nature with a geometric precision. Beauford Delaney’s agitated brushwork, flattened space, and all-over composition were characteristic of contemporary Abstract Expressionism. Friedel Dzubas’s mature paintings since the 1960’s assimilate his early interest in German Romanticism and Expressionism into post-war American abstraction. Jimmy Ernst’s power of composition and paint handling reasserted control over his imagery in later work. Joseph Fiore’s abstractions subtly combine inspirations of a purity that comes from the solitude of the nature environment in Maine. John Hultberg’s dramatic landscapes develop with a prophetic and apocalyptic atmosphere. Ibram Lassaw was an edgy and innovative sculptor whose deft designs open whole spaces into organic systems. Michael Loew’s geometric abstraction retains a sensuous esthetic balance. Leonard Nelson, is known for his gestural abstractions, which he later simplified into color-field paintings. Joe Overstreet integrates painting with sculptural space by combining his materials in different ways. His work thematically challenges dimensional boundaries. Philip Pavia, sculptor, co-founder and director (from 1948 to 1955) of “The Club” emphasizes in his work from abstract marbles through archaic heads in bronze and terra-cotta the relevance between formality, spontaneous gesture and materials. Misha Reznikoff’s piled layers of abstract figures enhance the depth of visual landscapes. Articulate and dynamic brushwork invite the viewer to new vigorous dimensions. Richards Rubens’ series “Venetian Fragments” breaks the dictates of the flat two-dimensional work and remind that he is mainly a gestural artist, who shapes and curves his canvases. Thomas Sills – much of his work embodies a transitional movement between Abstract Expressionism and color field painting. Sills had of many exhibitions at Betty Parsons Gallery. Wilfrid Zogbaum’s dynamic steel structures bear a kinship to primordial ancestors.


Gallery 2:

Ernest Briggs’ volcanic abstract paintings from the 1950’s place him firmly in the ranks of the New York avant-garde. He sought inspiration in nature. The changing qualities of the natural world are conveyed through his ragged and expressive brushwork. A second generation Abstract Expressionist, Briggs represents “action painting.” His paintings are alive; they offer viewers an experience that is both mysterious and known. He participated in several Whitney Museum Annuals and in 1956 was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “12 Americans” curated by Dorothy Miller.