For many of us, the fear of being forgotten is a haunting prospect. This fear became a reality for a group of 20th-century artists. These artists worked as teachers, photo assistants, critics, curators, and publishers, all over the world, creating a collection of paintings not widely seen. In a small room at New York Life Gallery, the exhibition Sleeping Beauties immerses viewers in a collection of paintings that bring mostly overlooked artists back to life. The show, curated by photographer and gallery owner Ethan James Green, offers a close look at diverse individuals through paintings that showcase the unique styles and techniques of each artist.
In each painting, the artist brings the audience into the most intimate spaces of people’s lives. In two works by painter, draftsman, and printmaker Raphael Soyer, “Nude Reclining in Bed” (c. 1960s) and “Girl in Brown Jacket” (1938), the subjects project a sense of vulnerability that should leave viewers with a desire to see more of his art. Virginia Dudley, a painter, printer, sculptor, jeweler, and photographer, is represented by an untitled painting from 1949. The Cubism-inflected work depicts a Black woman in the privacy of her home, exuding a carefree sensibility that invites viewers to engage with her. Green’s thoughtful curation provides audiences a space for personal connection via the private and rarely seen moments of others’ lives.
The color palette and facial expressions in each painting projects the emotions of the subject and artist. “Self-Portrait” (1949) by Leroy E. Mitchell, Jr., a Michigan-born painter, writer, and teacher whose biography could only be pieced together by friends, best captures the sentiments of a neglected artist. This extraordinary painting, salvaged from a dump in Roseville, Michigan, according to Swann Auction Galleries, illustrates the sorrow that many gifted artists endure as Mitchell glances toward the viewer with a sober expression while painting his portrait.
At the heart of the show is a sense that the human experience transcends age, ethnicity, and background. The captivating works inspire empathy, not only for artists and their subjects, but also for the strangers we will encounter upon leaving.
Sleeping Beauties continues at New York Life Gallery (167–169 Canal Street, Floor 5, Chinatown, Manhattan) through July 14. The exhibition was curated by Ethan James Green.