Approaches to Abstraction is a webinar series hosted by the Whitney Museum of Art this year highlighting the contributions of female artists to abstract art from 1930 to the 1950’s.
The lecture series was inspired by the Whitney museum's exhibition Labyrinth of Forms. Women played a huge role in the development of the philosophy and techniques behind abstract art. The art of various wonderful artists were explored, including Lee Krasner, June Wayne, and Louise Nevelson in a celebration of 27 artists’ works drawn from the Whitney's collection.
The second session offered viewers an insider look at the Whitney Sondra Gilman Study Centre, where they can view rarely seen paper works from their collection. The sessions were presided over by Sarah Humphreville, senior curatorial assistant, and Clara Rojas-Sebesta the conservator of works on paper at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
American Abstraction began to gain momentum during the 1930’s and 1940’s in the United States, with the movement gaining a small but loyal following by artists embracing this new, modern approach. Women were a huge force in the movement, but few of their contributions have been duly recognized — they lectured, put together exhibitions and innovated new methods and techniques. Now, their works and achievements are celebrated.
The webinar highlighted the challenges these artists faced: Firstly, abstraction was a largely shunned art form by critics, galleries and the public that wouldn't be embraced for a long time, as realism was still the dominant style. Secondly, they weren't just trying to champion a maligned art genre, but they were also women in a field in which most traditional paths were closed to them. To overcome these challenges, they formed networks and communities to support and celebrate each other's work when most collectors and critics wouldn’t give their work a second glance.
An art teacher at the time commented on Lee Krasner’s work, describing it as “so good that you would not know it was done by a woman.” As a result of the widespread misogyny, several women artists tried to hide their gender by altering their names. Irene Rice Pereira signed her works as “I. Rice Pereira” while others like Dorr Bothwell went as far as to legally change her name.
If they made it in the art world, they often weren’t able to stay active innovators for long, as expectations around marriage, family and child rearing often took precedence over their work. Even women who married within their artistic circle couldn't escape these pressures, often placing art on the back burner while they supported their spouse’s career. Women like Lee Krasner became “Mrs. Jackson Pollock”, and their art was forgotten.
This series is an opportunity for anyone wanting to learn more about female artists (or abstraction in general) to explore this topic in more depth. The lectures align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Gender Equality. The Whitney Museum has many education opportunities and online exhibits open to anyone. The recordings of the webinars are available on Youtube.