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Four Originals: Cassatt, O'Keeffe, Nevelson, Frankenthaler

September 21, 2003 through January 4, 2004


Four Originals: Cassatt, O'Keeffe, Nevelson, Frankenthaler opens at Nassau County Museum of Art (NCMA) on September 21 and remains on view through January 4. This exhibition was curated for NCMA by Constance Schwartz and Franklin Hill Perrell.

Spanning four generations and more than one hundred years, each of these artists - Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Louise Nevelson and Helen Frankenthaler - made a major contribution to the art field. Despite the obstacles of a male-dominated art society, they ultimately emerged as powerful, influential personalities. The exhibition will show how each of these four artists pioneered a fresh new vision, and in so doing, asserted their unique identities. From the naturalism of Cassatt and O'Keeffe to the total abstractions of Nevelson and Frankenthaler, these artists, all extraordinary stylistic innovators, evolved within milieus that did not easily grant women autonomy, or particularly, equal opportunity with men. On view, will be approximately seventy works of art. (right: Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Place I, 1945, oil on canvas, 29-1/2 x 35-3/8 inches, Courtesy Mary Griggs Burke)

In an age dominated by the conventions and prejudices of Victorian society, Mary Cassatt, a young Philadelphian from a conservative upper class background made her way to Europe and became the only American artist to play a formative role in the French Impressionist revolution that was taking place in Paris. In spite of public derision of that movement, Cassatt became devoted to the new realism and played a crucial role in its evolution. Portraying the life of her day with candor and boldness, her consistent preference for figure painting with psychologically charged themes of women and childhood was unique in Impressionism.

Georgia O'Keeffe, a pioneer of American Modernism, differed from her modernist contemporaries because she combined her own idiosyncratic system of design principles - enlargement, cropping and linear precision - with a rejection of external stylistic trends of European origin, especially Expressionism or Cubism. Consequently, O'Keeffe's primary subjects - the city, majestic and mystical western landscapes and images of flowers - became not simply objects of contemplation, but internal landscapes and visions of an alternate world.

Unlike her Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, Louise Nevelson found the formal means to convey this movement's impulse through the discarded refuse of the city streets. Her findings of lumber, boxes, salvaged architectural features and constructed objects became her palette, freely composed within the matrix of a cubist grid into monochromatic painted wall sculptures, a technique as radical as Pollock's drip and splatter. By combining the frontal read of a painting with sculptural texture and tactility, uniquely embracing the mystery of light and shadow, she created a radical new look. (right: Mary Cassatt, La jeune mariée (The Young Bride), 1868-69, oil on canvas, 34-3/4 x 27-1/2 inches, Montclair Art Museum, Gift of the Max Kade Foundation)

Helen Frankenthaler, taking her cue from Pollock, moved formalist abstraction towards its next logical state of development. Frankenthaler's reconciliation of texture and color enabled a breakthrough beyond Abstract Expressionism's so-called signature styles. Her distinctive innovation of color field painting provided her with a limitless means of improvisation and also served as impetus for several other major artists. Despite the resurgence of Realism since the Pop-dominated 1960s, Frankenthaler's influence enabled Abstract art to sustain a continuing relevance.

As is a tradition at NCMA, the museum will present several lectures, demonstrations and workshops in conjunction with the exhibition that will serve to enhance the experience of viewing the works of the show. For details, call (516) 484-9338, ext. 12. Additionally, on November 8, the museum holds a special benefit dinner in honor of the exhibition; the dinner's theme, Women, is suggested by the artists whose works is celebrated in Four Originals. Call (516) 484-9338, ext. 12 for more information.


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