Part 5, research point 2, AbEx – the missing women and people of colour

I had just posted my piece on abstract expressionism, noting the missing women, when I found this article on Artsy net. Alongside a very accessible article about what you need to appreciate abstract art – it turns out you need to know something of the context, the historical background, provenance, and the cultural realities artists were working in. Also their significance as innovators – was a short paragraph concerning the missing women.

“The truth is I did not set out to do a women’s show; I really set out to see who’d been left out of the canon of Abstract Expressionism,” she said. “When I began to see which people had been left out, I realized there was a whole gender missing.” She brought together over 50 works by 12 women painters associated with AbEx, including Lee Krasner, Judith Godwin,  Grace Hartigan, and Ethel Schwabacher.

It’s key to recognize, though, that the canon of AbEx masters was also the product of societal biases, and that our subjective opinions are not always free from the influence of broader cultural realities. Most of the major AbEx figures are white men, despite there having been both artists of color and women working in the genre (see: Norman Lewis, or Lee Krasner).

Gwen Chantzit, curator of modern art at the Denver Art Museum

These exclusions are somewhat predictable, given the period, but a perhaps little less so when you consider jazz was the favoured musical genre in this group, and that so many jazz musicians and singers were Black and, in the case of singers, female.

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Gwen Chanzit, in ‘What makes an abstract expressionist painting good?’ Isaac Kaplan, 2016. Artsy Net. [online] Available at https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-abstract-expressionist-painting-good. Accessed 24 June 2020.

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