Unlisted highlights seventeen women artists who worked in modernist styles in the latter half of the twentieth century who are not often exhibited despite their significant skills, careers and accomplishments.
“Listed” is a word that is used to describe artists who are included in standard art reference books. The term is often found in descriptions of works for sale at third-tier auction houses and online auction websites to indicate that an artist is of a certain status and bolster their legitimacy. “Unlisted,” the title of this exhibition, exposes the irony of the term and the arbitrariness of the art world. The impact is particularly significant for women who, in addition to attempting to establish reputations as professional artists, had to compete in a sexist, male-dominated art world. In some cases, forced to choose between traditional gender roles and a career, women artists gave up their artistic practice, further driving their names into obscurity.
Émigré and European Artists
Margit Beck was born in Hungary in 1911 and studied art there and in Oradea, Romania. After immigrating to the United States, she took classes at the Art Students League in New York. She painted figurative work early in her career, but by the late 1950s, she mostly produced landscapes that reduced forms to their essential geometry and color. A figurative work with a Jewish subject, The Law Giver (ca. 1960), is unusual in her repertoire.
Using angles and flat areas of layered color that create a sense of movement, the painting presents an archetypal Moses-like figure wearing a tallit and a skullcap with a tablet clutched firmly in both hands. The portrait is distinctly modernist with its colorful background and saturated green, cerulean blue, pink and orange shadows that fall across the man’s face and his clothing. The angular rendering of his face borders on cubist. Despite the vivid colors surrounding the figure, the bearded man’s expression is troubled and imbalanced, his eyes at different positions as he stares out at the viewer. The picture evokes an everyman, possibly representing the plight of Jews in the country that Beck had left behind.
Yuli Blumberg was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and emigrated to the United States in 1924 where she listed her occupation as “painter” on the ship manifest. She attended art academies in Lithuania and Moscow, Soviet Russia, and was closely associated with the German Expressionists Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1881–1919) and Emil Nolde (1867–1956), with whom she exhibited. American critics frequently referenced these associations to contextualize her work as German Expressionist.
Blumberg often depicted Jewish themes in her expressionistic work which is evident in Scholar in His Study (ca. 1948) on view here. The Jewish scholar is deep in thought, rendered in saturated colors with a textured surface to emphasize the intensity of the scene, suggesting revitalization and reflection on loss—a subject that the Jewish people knew intimately.
In 1946, a review in The Art Digest of a solo exhibition described Blumberg’s paintings as depicting “. . . a grief-stricken world.” Blumberg’s own words followed: “In my imperfect grasp of a shattering vision I created these paintings.”
Magdalena Rădulescu was born in Râmnicu Vâlcea, Romania. She left for Munich in the Weimar Republic, now Germany, to study painting around 1920, then continued to Paris and enrolled at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere. There she met her future husband, the Italian artist Massimo Campigli (1895–1971), whom she married in 1926. They divorced in 1939 when Rădulescu rejected the role of full-time housewife to pursue her career.
Rădulescu’s work was rooted in folkloric themes; simplified figures and wild horses appear in her paintings. She embraced Expressionism and rejected Surrealism, the modernist avant-garde style that emerged in the 1920s. Round Up (ca. 1960s) is executed in an expressionistic style, its gestural quality evoking chaotic motion as the rush of horses move in a circular pattern. In the catalogue essay for Rădulescu’s 1994 retrospective at The National Museum of Art of Romania, Bucharest, Drs. Florenta Ivaniuc and Christian Robert Velescu posit that the circle motif in Rădulescu’s work connects to the idea of sacred spaces in modern art, referencing Kazemir Malevich’s (1879–1935) Black Circle from 1913, and the shape’s ritualistic associations.
Although celebrated in Romania, Rădulescu’s work remains obscure outside her home country.
Born in 1916, Suzanne Rodillon lived a bohemian lifestyle and never married. Rodillon was well-connected in the Parisian art scene. She was romantically involved with the noted Italian artist Massimo Campigli (1895–1971) and the French poet Camille Bryen (1907–1977), among others. Her first solo exhibition was in 1957 at Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, Italy, an important gallery founded by Carlo Cardazzo (1908–1963). Cardazzo had a close relationship with Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) and introduced her to the avant-garde artists he exhibited in the 1950s.
Rodillon painted in an abstract expressionist style. Bird (1958) is executed in dramatic impasto with fiery oranges and yellows accented by black and white. The frenetic composition explodes off the canvas. The title may reference the mythical phoenix, a bird reborn in fire as it rises from the ashes.
Despite Rodillon’s burgeoning career and international exhibitions in England, Italy and France, she abruptly stopped painting in 1966. The work in her studio was sold in 1991 at auction. A brief essay in a catalogue accompanying the sale suggested that her departure from the art world was due to unspecified family obligations. She died in obscurity in 1988.
Printmaking and Modern Art
Shirley Roman, born Shirley Nadel in 1919, lived with her husband, Seymour Roman (1912–1989), in New York. There is no record of her formal art training, though some sources state that she studied under Ruth Leaf (1923–2015), a pioneer in etching, who trained at Atelier 17. Leaf taught in Long Island and her essential 1976 book, Intaglio Printmaking Techniques, includes a full-color reproduction of one of Roman’s etchings.
Roman primarily depicted seascapes, creating rich textures, patterns and colors in her etchings. Maelstrom, Secret Pool and Cascade, all from about the early 1970s, display her technical skill at rendering color gradations and pattern, as evinced, for example, in the fine lines and delicate grays of the latter work. Her depictions of water, air and land utilize complex textures and delicate forms intended to evoke emotional responses. Roman described herself as “. . . fascinated by the moods and patterns created by clouds and sea. . . . I am interested in reaffirming the beauty around us when so much in the world has been made ugly.”
Roman was also a member of Graphic Eye Gallery, in Port Washington, New York, one of several artist cooperatives formed and comprised primarily of women in that Long Island town in the 1970s. In 1976, one of its members described the gallery’s significance, telling The New York Times: “There are many women artists living in the Port Washington area and they didn’t have the time to run to New York for their art and get back home in time to cook dinner for the family.” Roman was active with the gallery until relocating to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1995.
Gertrude Perrin showed exclusively with Rose Fried Gallery in the 1960s. Fried (1896–1970) opened her gallery—then named Pinacotheca Gallery—in 1932 where it was known for showing abstract, avant-garde artists. Fried gave Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979) her first solo exhibition in New York City as well as helped to promote Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) in the United States. She also exhibited lesser known artists like Perrin.
Perrin utilized nontraditional materials to experiment with the potential of collage and printmaking. Wall, No. 1 (1967) is a collagraph—a type of print where materials are applied to a rigid substrate, such as board, to create a textured plate. The plate is then inked and pressed onto paper, creating a collage-like pattern with subtle gradations in color. Perrin’s print here employs a monochromatic color scheme and creates visual interest with papery layers on the surface and a pattern of hieroglyphs, suggesting a jumbled language or system of communication.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a 1977 exhibition fundraiser at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, no references to Perrin’s career appear after the 1960s. The Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, holds a work in its permanent collection. Today, Perrin is virtually unknown.
Lily Harmon, born Lillian Perelmutter in 1913, attended Yale School of Fine Arts, New Haven, Connecticut, Académie Colarossi, Paris, France, and the Art Students League in New York. Harmon worked in diverse media ranging from painting and printmaking to relief sculptures and assemblages. Harmon was married five times, most notably to the collector Joseph H. Hirshhorn in 1947. They divorced in 1956 and she continued to use the surname of her first husband, Sidney Harmon.
Romantic Landscape (1964) is a testament to Harmon’s skill as a graphic artist. The delicate lines and intricate patterns of branches around the silhouetted figure create a sense of claustrophobia. Promontory (ca. 1960s)—referring to a land mass that juts out into a body of water—is a mixed media work that explores shape and texture through layering rice paper on top of canvas, materials Harmon became interested in around this time.
Harmon’s work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, and The Jewish Museum, New York, New York, among others. In 1982, the Wichita Art Museum, Wichita, Kansas, organized a fifty-year traveling retrospective of Harmon’s work.
Women at Atelier 17
Atelier 17 was a seminal printmaking studio established by graphic artist William Stanley Hayter (1901–1988) who was partially responsible for pushing the medium to the fore of avant-garde art. The studio opened in Paris in 1927 and relocated to New York City during World War II. Here it attracted women artists due to the fact that it was initially hosted by the New School for Social Research. The school’s admissions policy explicitly stated it did not discriminate against applicants on the basis of age, gender, race, nationality or religion. Women joined the studio for diverse reasons. Some sought access to European modernist movements while others found space to focus on their artistic practice. They also adopted leadership roles, which was unusual at the time. Ruth Cyril, on view here, was a shop monitor. Her fellow Atelier 17 artist Terry Haass was temporarily appointed the co-director when Hayter prepared to move the workshop back to Paris at the end of the war.
Born Terezie Goldmannová in Český Těšín, Czechoslovakia, in 1923, in her early life Terry Haass and her family fled from Nazi persecution. First, they relocated to Paris in 1938 where Haass enrolled for a brief period at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière to study fashion and design. When the city fell to German troops in 1941, they escaped to New York. Soon after arriving, Haass married another refugee, Walter Haass. They divorced in the early 1950s.
Beginning in 1944, Haass studied under Will Barnet (1911–2012) and Harry Sternberg (1904–2001) at the Art Students League, and, by 1947, had joined Atelier 17, the influential printmaking workshop in New York. She served briefly as its co-director in 1951.
Haass’s innovative printmaking techniques, which included soldering wire to plates and then removing pieces to create dramatic, sculptural etchings, earned her acclaim. Meteors (1970) exemplifies this type of forceful mark-making. The vibrant orange ground is traversed by linear black trails, which appear to map out possible trajectories of objects traveling through space. This celestial subject matter reflects Haass’s burgeoning interest in Albert Einstein’s theories of the space-time continuum beginning in 1970, as noted by art historian, Christina Weyl.
Born Ruth Goldfarb, in 1947 the printmaker adopted the pseudonym “Ruth Cyril” as a way to obscure her gender and avoid the infantilization women artists endured. The same year, she joined Atelier 17, the influential studio at the forefront of avant-garde printmaking.
Moonlit Pond (1970), executed in aquatint and etching, affects a sculptural quality with forcefully etched lines, creating a dramatic contrast between the inked and uninked areas of the paper. It’s been observed that Cyril’s background in jewelry design influenced her sculptural approach to printmaking.
Cyril received a Fulbright fellowship to study at the Sorbonne in 1957 and exhibited in the United States, France and England. Her work is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, England), Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Connecticut), Hirshhorn Museum (Washington, D.C.), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, New York) and National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), among many others.
Despite her robust career, Cyril’s date of death remains unknown.
Abstraction in the 1950s-70s
Edith Simonds was born in Queens in 1901 and came from an affluent family that had connections with the upper echelons of New York society. Her family also included four generations of women artists: her mother, Edith Vernon Mann Simonds, her daughter, Sandys Moore, and her granddaughter, Hannah Bureau. Moore and Bureau are practicing artists today. Despite painting in a very distinct, abstract style and producing a number of works, Simonds’s name is perhaps the most obscure in this exhibition. Research yields very little about her career.
In the oil painting and mixed-media drawings on view, Simonds works in an abstract style using geometric forms and color. She explores how overlapping or adjacent shapes can affect the balance of a composition and where the viewer’s eye is drawn first in the work. Whatever artistic instruction that Simonds may or may not have had, her choice of abstraction demonstrates that she was aware of popular styles of the day.
Lila Katzen, born Lila Pell in 1925, is one of the more well-known artists in this exhibition. In the 1940s, she attended the Art Students League and Cooper Union, both in New York, and in 1948, she studied painting under Hans Hofmann (1880–1966). Her first solo exhibition was at The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1955. By the late 1950s, she transitioned from painting to installation art and sculpture, which she worked in exclusively for the remainder of her career.
The 1955 painting included here shows Hofmann’s influence in its Abstract Expressionist style. However, Katzen’s use of frenetic cross-hatching, color and texture may connect with her later interest in layering light in different colors, compositional arrangements and physical positioning.
Katzen taught at Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Maryland, from 1962 to 1980. Her work is included in the De Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park, Lincoln, Massachusetts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., The J. Paul Getty Museum, Santa Monica, California, and Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, New Jersey, among many others.
Despite her illustrious career, Katzen’s sculptures are undervalued based on the low prices they have achieved at auction. Information on private sales is not readily available.
Elsa Schachter is one of the most obscure artists in the exhibition despite her prolific output as an artist. Her oil paintings appear frequently on auction sites. Her most notable connection is with the Provincetown Art Association and Museum where she was a member.
Schachter was born Elsa Meyrson in New Jersey where she later resided with her two children and husband, Milton. She was an avid painter and collage artist who kept a studio in her suburban home and showed in group exhibitions. Her paintings were mostly abstract, focused on the emotive power of color and abstract composition. The work on view, probably from the 1960s, is untitled and incorporates a peaceful, aqua-green palette underpinned by vibrant oranges and reds. The softly layered colors produce a dream-like atmosphere and a sense of being suspended between the clouds and the earth.
Tragically, Schachter died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage in 1971. The limited information that can be found about Schachter’s life and career comes from a short passage written by the artist Lily Harmon (also included in this exhibition), who married Milton Schachter after Elsa’s death. Harmon had known Elsa and admired her work, which she mentions in her 1981 memoir, Freehand.
Referred to as an intimist abstractionist (“intimism” refers to a style of early twentieth-century French Impressionism that depicted domestic scenes), Nadia Gould utilizes a grid format comprising geometric forms in lively colors to create an abstract picture that presents a sense of simple joy in its palette. In Playful Sunshine (ca. 1964), the softened edges of the geometric grid and vivid colors create a sense of playfulness—hence the title. A loose domestic narrative hints at the “intimist” quality of her work.
Beginning in 1947, Gould studied at New York University and City College of New York before going on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris until 1950. She exhibited in group and solo exhibitions while raising four children. Her husband, Philip, was an art historian and professor at Sarah Lawrence College and they often travelled together. Gould was vice president of Viridian Gallery on West 57th Street—which is still in operation—where she also had a one-person show in 1982. Despite Gould’s career and active involvement in the New York art world, today her name is not widely known with the exception of a website dedicated to her work.
Olivia Kahn was born into a prominent New York family immersed in the arts. Her father was architect Ely Jacques Kahn who designed some of New York’s most iconic modernist buildings. She attended Bryn Mawr College, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and went on to study at the Art Students League in New York. Beginning in the 1950s, she exhibited at galleries in Manhattan, experimenting with diverse mediums including ceramics, painting, printmaking and watercolor.
Although Kahn worked figuratively at times, her practice focused mostly on abstraction. She experimented with arrangements of color and geometric forms to evoke certain moods or associations. Kahn titled her prints and often worked in numbered series. In her New York series, she juxtaposes color and shape at different angles to create a form in the center of the paper. In New York #20 (1968), she utilizes blocks of colors stacked on top of each other and side by side, perhaps echoing the angular architecture of New York City.
Kahn continued to work in her Lower Manhattan studio until her death in 2015. A website that showcases paintings and prints is actively maintained as a tribute to her life and work.
Landscapes and Abstraction
Lee Hall was born in 1934 and grew up in Florida. An accomplished author, biographer, scholar and artist, she exhibited primarily at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, New York, alongside such artists as Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Clyfford Still (1904–1980), Mark Rothko (1903–1970), Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015) and Barnett Newman (1905–1970). Hall earned her Ph.D. from New York University in 1965 and taught at various institutions. She served as president of Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, from 1975 to 1983.
Known as an Abstract Expressionist, landscape painting was the basis of Hall’s work. She abstracted colors, silhouettes and shapes observed in the natural world and used color and geometry to evoke emotion. This is evident in Drabbled Scheme (1969), a small scale oil in white interspersed with fields of subtle color variation.
After the death of Parsons, a close friend and confidante, in 1982, Hall expressed disdain at the state of the contemporary New York art world and withdrew. The next time she exhibited was at Jerard Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina, a few years before her death. Although commanding modest prices at auction, the gallery represents her estate and actively promotes and exhibits her work.
Born Mildred Shire, on the 1940 census Mildred Mermin listed her profession as artist, stating that she worked a thirty-hour week, just as her husband, Myer Mermin, listed himself as an attorney. This was unusual for a woman at the time and indicated that Mermin considered her artistic practice a serious occupation.
Mermin studied in New York City at the Art Students League and with the Social Realist painter Philip Evergood (1901–1973). Beginning in the 1940s, she began exhibiting in galleries around New York. Her first one-person show was at Harry Salpeter Gallery in 1956. The listing for that exhibition in the March 1956 issue of ArtNews described her work: “. . . [as moving] away from an easy, descriptive draftsmanship and heavy modeling toward mass expressed in free color planes and a few bold strokes.” Hill Town (ca. 1960s) fits this description. The canvas is loosely split into two parts, suggesting a stylized landscape anchored by a mountainous form of color, layered and mixed to create a spatial effect.
Mermin’s work was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Jewish Museum, both in New York, New York, and commercial galleries.
Anne Tabachnick was born in Connecticut in 1927 and earned a B.A. in anthropology from Hunter College, City University of New York. Attracted to the bohemian art scene in Greenwich Village in the 1940s, at the urging of fellow artist Nell Blaine (1922–1996), Tabachnick enrolled in night classes with Hans Hofmann (1880–1966).
Although abstraction began to dominate contemporary art in the 1950s, Tabachnick did not fully embrace the style. Instead, she employed semi-figurative elements rendered in vibrant, saturated colors accented by charcoal applied on top of the paint. Her style is considered by most critics as indebted to Matisse.
Trees and Grass (ca. 1980) is a traditional landscape in which Tabachnick uses lush color and outlined plant forms in the foreground. However, the loose paint strokes of grass green and jewel tones hovering above a few leaves sprouting from the ground suggests a scene in tension with the observable world and pure expression.
Tabachnick’s last solo exhibition in 2015 at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in New York was reviewed in Hyperallergic by Tim Keane, who wrote: “. . . Tabachnick has long been one of the many New York School painters relegated to a minor role by art historians.”
This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.