Women in Abstract Expressionism Exhibit

Through Sept. 25th, 2016 the Denver Art Museum is hosting the Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibition. Twelve female abstract artists, from both the New York and the Bay Area art movements, are showcased in the exhibit organized by Gwen Chanzit, the curator of the 4-story building that houses the Denver Art Museum’s Modern and Contemporary art collection. Fifty-one works by Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Sonia Gechtoff, Judith Godwin, Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Deborah Remington and Ethel Schwabacher occupy the top floor of the museum along with viewing room for a short video about the artists and abstract expressionism as well as a small room decorated with period pieces from the 40’s and 50’s as well as black and white photographs and quotes from the 12 painters.

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Denver Art Museum (DAM) display, Women of Abstract Expressionism, 2016.

We drove from OKC to Denver, approximately a 10 hour car ride each way, over Labor Day Weekend to see this exhibit. We would not have been in Colorado except for the Women of Abstract Expressionism and although we did see some other sightseeing excursions after the exhibition alone was well worth the drive. Even if you’ve managed to see some or even all of the works in print or online it’s hard to fully appreciate the scope of the show. The artwork came from over 15 different collections and were borrowed from museums, trusts, and foundations throughout the country. We started by watching the video as was recommended by one of many museum staff available for questions. Short and informative, it contained interviews with a few of the living artists and the children of some of the others. The sheer size of the paintings necessitates a large space and the museum’s path winds through the New York painters before showing the Bay Area artists. For the other texture fans in the world there is enough that I suggest pants with roomy pockets because I had to keep my hands clenched and tucked away through most of the exhibit. I can not express how much I enjoyed being able to step back and consider two different works by Joan Mitchell, painted a few years apart, separated by only a strip of white museum wall and then be able to turn my head to the side and see yet another.

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Godwin, Judith. Woman (1954), from the artist’s personal collection, New York.

As an added bonus to all of the above my wife, who greatly dislikes Abstract Expressionism specifically and quite a bit of modern art in general, enjoyed the show too. She liked Judith Godwin’s work quite a bit as well as Mary Abbott’s and, I believe, all of the Bay Area artist’s work. She has, of course, heard me talk about Krasner, Mitchell, Frankenthaler, and de Kooning but the video gave her more information on the other 8 abstract expressionists and let her hear about the work, and the movement, in their own words which enhanced her appreciation of the exhibit and the individual artist’s paintings. I was relieved that she liked it and it made the experience that much more fun for me. And it was fun for all the other visitors too; I could see it on their faces and hear it in their voices. One woman was excitedly trying to explain the intricacies of creating of the color black to her camera wielding companion while directing which paintings were to be photographed (flash photography not allowed but also not needed) while across the room one member of a trio kept creeping closer and closer to a painting almost, but not quite, touching the work as she talked animatedly about the brushstrokes. As we were leaving the same staff member who had greeted us was greeting another pair with the same opening line “Hello, have you seen the exhibit before?” However, this time he was cut short with a blurted “No, but we have the book!” I can not remember the last time I saw so many people excited in an art museum and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an art museum crowd as effervescent.

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DAM display, Women of Abstract Expressionism, 2016.

The book is, of course, the Woman of Abstract Expressionism catalogue available at the museum (or online) in hardback at $65.00 or softback for fifty dollars. At over 200 pages with 188 pictures, several essays, an interview and short biographies of the 12 exhibited artists plus biographies for 30 other prominent female artists – is a beauty. The museum had plenty of other, less expensive, gift options as well such as mini artwork posters for about $8.00 each and a collection of quotes from the artists on pins.

If you are unable to make Denver the exhibit will also be shown at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC and the Palm Springs Art Museum in CA.

Take a friend or loved one and road trip if you need to – it’ll be a worthwhile journey.

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