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From the entrance to the "Women Of Abstract Expressionism" exhibition in Denver (all photos by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

From the entrance to the “Women Of Abstract Expressionism” exhibition in Denver (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Welcome back to the Hyperallergic Podcast. In our latest episode, we continue on our mission to bring you playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art and culture in the world today.

Curator Gwen Chanzit (left) and artist Judith Godwin

This episode focuses on the Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. Curated by Gwen Chanzit, the show is full of wonderful works, highlighting what has largely been overlooked in the history of the movement. But the bigger question I explore in this episode is: why were the women largely left out of the history books on Abstract Expressionism?

We talk to Denver Art Museum curator Gwen Chanzit about her important exhibition, speak with the artist Judith Godwin — an Abstract Expressionist who has largely been ignored in the history books, I travel to the Upper West Side to get feminist art historian Linda Nochlin’s thoughts on the matter, and finally I chat with curator and critic Karen Wilkin, who was friends with Helen Frankenthaler (one of the leading Abstract Expressionist artists).

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The entrance to the show features a contrast of these two works by (left) Lee Krasner and (right) Ethel Schwabacher.

A view of works by Helen Frankenthaler

A Krasner (right) with a Frankenthaler (middle left)

Works by Judith Godwin (right) and Krasner

Works by Judith Godwin, including “Martha Graham — Lamentation” (1956, left)

Elaine de Kooning’s “Bullfight” (1959) was acquired by the Denver Art Museum.

Works by Sonia Getchoff

Works by Grace Hartigan

Works by Jay DeFeo

Mary Abbott, “Oisin’s Dream” (1952)

A painting by Ethel Schwabacher

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

22 replies on “Why Were So Many Women Excluded from the History of Abstract Expressionism?”

  1. OMG… why have so many women been excluded from everything? Including the pages of Hyperallergic? It’s the patriarchy stupid.

      1. Well, I get your posts in my email every week. Are you saying you do actually cover 50% women and I’ve missed them? If so I’m really sad as I seem to see so many posts about men that I don’t need to read.

  2. I cannot wait to see this exhibit when it comes to Palm Springs in September. I lived through the darkness when I was an undergraduate in the 1970s and 80s – a darkness that would continue for over 30 years. This reality is one example of extreme suppression of information by critics, investors, educators, and artists. As an undergraduate in art school, I recall male professors encouraged us women to create small works, whereas male students were given the wink to create large works that were sometimes earmarked for shows in New York. We women noticed this, and did not quite know how to respond, what to do. What we did not know then is the legacy of large scale, bold and original art created by women. I had Irving Sandler as a professor. He mentioned the same two boring paintings by Helen Frankenthaler that were in all the magazines and books printed at that time; the same two weak paintings by Krasner clearly derivative of Pollak, and the lame watercolors by Elaine deKooning, again that looked the most like her husband’s. The access to stronger art by Frankenthaler and bolder art by others have been available only in the last 3 – 4 years or so. Three years ago when I googled Grace Hartigan I saw two images. I thought, “Really, Grace must have been taking care of children, and this is what she could manage to eek out.” Not so…. I teach painting, and I am constantly – for 20 years now – looking for examples of painting by women to show all of my students. FINALLY, now we see strong art!!

    But what she-artists are being suppressed now? Could it ever be possible for women to benefit from attention within their lifetimes? Or is it only men that have entitlement to market forces? Are strong women artists still threatening to the market? Maybe professors, critics, artists and other purveyors of art should give contemporary women another look, and perhaps the wink to be included in shows, reviews and other considerations.

  3. Heartbreaking and it has happened so many times. Right now I am reading the memoir of Yayoi Kusama, her NYC years (“Infinity Net”). This is a time and place I read about often as a young woman – and had *no idea* what a force she was, BFF with Joseph Cornell and Georgia O’Keeffe, making the most amazing work and getting downplayed if not altogether neatly written out (at least as far as I could see). ….

  4. What about Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Anna-Eva Bergman, Jeanne Coppel, Natalia Dumitresco, Jeanne Laganne and possibly a few others from Europe?

      1. Fair enough. By the way, is it just me or most historians/books still talk separately about American Abstract Expressionism, European Informel/Tachisme and almost contemporaneous variants elsewhere? For instance, is “Nuagisme” finally placed in context alongside American color field painters such as Olitski?

        1. Absolutely they do. They are discussed separately. I think that might be the result of academic departments, but not sure. I think it may take a long time before people see the connections more thoroughly. Maybe this is one of things where distance and time is needed.

  5. First, Thank you Mr. Vartanian for the general excellence of Hyperallergic, for bringing to my home screen the visuals, as in the installation views here. Getting to see much of a show that I can’t get to see in the paint is invaluable, especially the examples from Artists unknown to me previously.I would have liked more. I appreciated hearing Nochlin speak again, enjoyed Wilkins’ candor, particularly re Krasner. There were nuggets of insight or history throughout that made the podcast worthwhile as well as enjoyable.

    1. I agree with you completely, Ms. Goldberg, on all your points. However, I would have loved it if Rosalyn D. had been included (see her beautiful and provocative little comment just above your entry). BTW, I’m an old guy who has always, for seventy-eight years, held women in highest regard and respected their opinions on a par with any man I’ve ever met — often more so.

      1. Hi Sid, I tried to concentrate on the artists who were included (I did a few other interviews that didn’t make it) but I agree that Rosalyn couldn’t been a good inclusion. I had no idea about the Krasner story. So great!

        1. Thanx, Hrag. I know you love her as, I think, all of us do. RD is a national treasure in my book.

      2. Good! Rare enough in this life, the only kind of man I care to know. A total aside: although I met RD only once or twice, I knew her late husband Sherman for many years, a lovely man. Liked her entry.

  6. I went to the bull fights with E De K in Spain…she even “interviewed” one of the toreadors afterwards. Always very concentrated. Aware of herself. Taking what she needed as an artist.

  7. Just to be sure, people: Women AND MEN OF COLOR are often ignored and excluded from exhibition and history, as well. I appreciate the well-deserved attention to female artists, but it’s not like ALL MEN are treated equally, either.

  8. Hopefully, exhibitions such as this will open some doors for women painters today. I am in Denver and we have many wonderful abstract painters who have been “under shown” and happen to be women in Colorado. Gwen Chanzit worked tirelessly for several years curating and locating the paintings at DAM and this show is stunning and powerful. Also, I must note that Gwen’s effort has led to other simultaneous exhibitions such as Colorado Women in Abstraction at Center for Visual Art curated by Michael Paglia, as well as emphasis on women and abstract painting at several prominant Denver galleries. Hopefully this will lead to more awareness of the deficits in art history as well as overlooking of current women who happen to be abstract painters that should be participating in the “conversation” today.

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