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Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach explores women's contributions to Modernism
Florine Stettheimer (American, 1871­–1944), A Model (Nude Self-Portrait), circa 1915–16. Oil on canvas, 48 1/4 x 68 1/4 in (122.5 x 173.4 cm). Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, Gift of the Estate of Ettie Stettheimer, 1967, (1967.23.29).

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA.- The Norton Museum of Art, as part of a season celebrating the work of women artists, presents the first exhibition to examine the art and careers of modernists Georgia O’Keeffe, Florine Stettheimer, Helen Torr, and Marguerite Zorach in parallel. The exhibition will reveals how each of these women sought recognition as artists in their own right, and how their identity as women shaped the circumstances under which they worked, the forms their art took, and the way their work was interpreted—and often discounted. O’Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr, Zorach: Women Modernists in New York opened on February 18, 2016 and runs through May 15, 2016. The exhibition is curated by Ellen Roberts, the Norton’s Harold and Anne Berkley Smith Curator of American Art.

“This exhibition is an important expansion of the art historical canon, which has focused heavily on male creativity and production, particularly during the development of modernism,” said Norton Museum Director Hope Alswang. “The Norton, which has been consistently expanding the scholarship on women artists, is proud to add to our understanding of how O’Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr and Zorach all played a critical role in American modernism.”

All four women lived and worked in New York between about 1910 and 1935. Zorach and Stettheimer were particularly close friends, and Zorach drew Stettheimer several times. Zorach and O’Keeffe attended Stettheimer’s avant-garde salon, and O’Keeffe eventually gave Stettheimer’s eulogy at her funeral. Helen Torr was more isolated, but knew O’Keeffe well, and O’Keeffe admired Torr’s work. Torr also likely knew Stettheimer and Zorach.

These artists came of age during the era of the New Woman, when women increasingly explored the public realm, attended college, entered the labor force, and fought for the right to vote. As part of a larger bohemian dedication to equality, New York’s avant-garde artistic community ostensibly supported women’s rights in this era. Yet the art world still treated women artists differently from men, especially as the market reorganized itself around a more exclusive commercial gallery and dealer system, which gave fewer opportunities to women.

This exhibition showcases each of these artists’ distinctive, modernist style through nearly 65 paintings, works on paper, and textiles created between 1910 and 1935. Exhibition highlights include:

• Five paintings from Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jack-in-the-Pulpit series from 1930, demonstrating the artist’s exploration of the suggestive abstraction underlying the natural world;

• Florine Stettheimer’s Spring Sale at Bendel’s (1921), which illustrates the artist’s use of humor and satire to capture the chaotic dance of shoppers in her upper-middle-class world;

• Two haunting and unflinching 1934-35 self-portraits by Helen Torr, which have never been displayed together;

• Key paintings of the female nude by Marguerite Zorach, illustrating both her early Fauvist adoption of the subject to express the joys and energies of nature and later use of it to suggest women’s ambiguous position in American society of the 1920s.

An in-depth look at the contemporary reception of these works reveals that each artist suffered from having her works interpreted as an expression of her intrinsic femininity, rather than her own artistic voice. Florine Stettheimer’s work was easy to dismiss because she rarely exhibited it publically, refused to sell it, and used delicate forms and personal subjects that seemed archetypally feminine. Marguerite Zorach’s reputation suffered when she began creating work in the seemingly feminine media of embroidery and batik because she found the demands of oil painting difficult to balance with the responsibilities of motherhood. Helen Torr and her husband Arthur Dove worked alongside one another to develop their artistic styles, but critics described her work as imitating his. Georgia O’Keeffe was the most critically and commercially successful of the four, but her art was consistently marketed and interpreted as embodying general female sexuality rather than her own distinct aesthetic vision. These modernists created work that was particularly open to such reductive understandings since it used modes of abstraction, leaving its meaning open-ended. Such interpretations purely in terms of gender were also particularly frustrating for these artists since, as modernists, they sought to express their complex individuality in their art.

“The exhibition showcases each of these artists’ distinctive modernism apart from their gender. Yet, at the same time, their identity as women affected their art, especially how it was interpreted,” said Ellen Roberts, exhibition curator and the Norton’s Harold and Anne Berkley Smith Curator of American Art. “Exposing the inadequacies of this initial understanding of their work is crucial because it still influences how we look at their work a century later. Seeing these four artists’ work in this new context reveals the factors that have limited appreciation not only of their art, but also of that of American women modernists in general. This project thus sheds light on women’s key role in the history of modernism.”

Today's News

February 19, 2016

Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach explores women's contributions to Modernism

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