Lee Krasner "Offbeat," 1956, oil on canvas, 48" x 48." GARY MAMAY
The Abstract Expressionist movement is best known for its male superstars, but women were also pioneers of the genre. On Saturday, October 7, Southampton Arts Center unveils “Heroines of the Abstract Expressionist Era: From The New York School to The Hamptons,” a new exhibition showcasing the work of artists such as Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Alice Baber, Lynne Drexler and others — women whose artwork finds long overdue acclaim and new appreciation with a contemporary audience.
The show also celebrates women whose work, while not abstract, is associated with the Abstract Expressionist era and are individuals who were part of the New York art scene, such as Mercedes Matter, Hedda Sterne, Jane Freilicher and Jane Wilson. These works by first and second-generation Ab Ex women artists are from the collection of Southampton’s Rick Freidman and Cindy Lou Wakefield. An opening reception will be held Saturday, October 14, from 5 to 7 p.m. and the exhibition runs through December 17.
This exhibition features paintings, sculptures and works on paper that are visually mesmerizing and technically complex. It offers the widest breadth of any private assemblage of this genre, featuring 100 works by 31 women artists. The artwork demonstrates how these artists pushed themselves in new directions as leaders and total participants in the Abstract Expressionist movement. The artists and their work were undervalued and overlooked for many years but have recently been revisited and reevaluated, giving these artists their due.
Abstract Expressionism was the first specifically American style to achieve international influence, and, as a result, 1940s New York replaced Paris as the center of the art world. The style was characterized by experimental, gestural and nonrepresentational painting, and for some artists associated with the movement, abstract art and blurring the lines between representational and abstraction expressed ideas concerning nature, the spiritual and the mind. For others, it was a way to explore formal and technical concerns. This show differs from other exhibitions by focusing on the 1950 New York School and the migration of many of these artists to the Hamptons.
From 1947 to 1951, several Abstract Expressionists developed their signature painting styles, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann and Mark Rothko. During the years that followed, these artists, informally called the First Generation of the New York School, received growing recognition nationally and globally. Several groundbreaking women artists from this same period are featured in this exhibition, including Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Hedda Sterne, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan and Joan Mitchell. “Heroines of the Abstract Expressionist Era” also includes works by painters such as Perle Fine, Mary Abbott, Dorothy Dehner, Audrey Flack, and Michael (Corinne) West and sculptors Louise Nevelson and Louise Bourgeois.
For more than 60 years, these women’s contributions to the movement were forgotten, while works by men such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning have been canonized in the history of American art. It has taken the dedication of scholars and curators — and the commitment of a handful of collectors like Rick Friedman and Cindy Lou Wakefield — to restore these women artists to their rightful place in the history of American art.
“I am truly delighted that this last exhibition celebrating our 10th anniversary will feature a major exhibition of art created by legendary women artists from the Abstract Expressionist movement, a period in art forever linked to the East End,” Christina Strassfield, SAC’s executive director. “It allows us to celebrate our rich cultural heritage and introduce many artists to a new generation of visitors.”
The exhibition includes works by: Mary Abbott, Alice Baber, Nell Blaine, Janice Biala, Dusti Bonge, Louise Bourgeois, Elaine de Kooning, Dorothy Dehner, Lynne Drexler, Amaranth Ehrenhalt, Perle Fine, Audrey Flack, Helen Frankenthaler, Jane Freilicher, Grace Hartigan, Carol Hunt, Buffie Johnson, Lee Krasner, Fay Lansner, Emily Mason, Mercedes Matter, Joan Mitchell, Louise Nevelson, Charlotte Park, Betty Parsons, Irene Rice Pereira, Hilla Rebay, Ethel Schwacher, Hedda Sterne, Michal Corinne West and Jane Wilson.
For the last 17 years, Cindy Lou Wakefield and Rick Freidman have enjoyed the never-ending journey of researching and assembling a collection of “talented but underappreciated “women artists who helped pioneer 1950s era Ab Ex movement, the so-called New York School and their subsequent migration to the East End.
“Although our collection was displayed prior at the Fenimore Art Museum and the Nassau County Museum of Art, SAC is the most appropriate venue for this newly expanded survey,” Rick Friedman notes. “Over the past half-century, many of the artists in this show, pioneers of the AbEx movement, proudly exhibited their work in this historic SAC building during their illustrious careers. So this is sort of a ‘homecoming’ show for them. This fall 2023 show provides guests with a ‘rediscovery’ of the breakthrough and innovative mid-century art movement, considered by many as America’s most significant art movement of the 20th century. It also provides a new generation of viewers an opportunity to discover these influential artists, many of whom lived and worked locally.
“We have enthusiastically worked closely with Christina Strassfield over the years,” he continues. “We value her deep understanding, respect, and appreciation for these artists’ oeuvre and their significant contributions to art in America. Her long experience helped guide this curation and display. We are very enthusiastic to team up again with SAC, having produced the Hamptons Fine Art Fair on their grounds two years ago. We are pleased to offer select pieces available for public acquisition, some of which benefit SAC.”
Southampton Arts Center is located at 25 Jobs Lane, Southampton. For details, visit southamptonartscenter.org or call 631-283-0967.
One fine body…