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Women of Abstract Art Profiled in Denver Galleries

A SURVEY FROM 1940S TO MODERN DAY

Photo: Sarai Nissan

Photo: Sarai Nissan

The first known art history textbook didn’t  include a single woman artist, though many existed. Since then, women in the arts have come a long way. It is poignant and heartening that major Denver museums and galleries are now dedicating entire shows to highlight influential women throughout art history.

The Denver Art Museum is showing their collection of pieces from influential women in the abstract expressionism movement post-World War II. Coincidently the Niza Knoll Gallery opened their exhibition entitled “Abstraction of Reality” on Sept. 3.

The attraction of the DAM’s exhibition is the fact that many of these women were not well-known, if recognized at all in their lifetimes, and now they’re part of a headlining installation. The fourth-floor gallery houses over 50 paintings from some of the most influential abstract expressionists, including Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Lee Krasner (for some time known simply as “Jackson Pollock’s wife,” as she often painted in his studio), and Elaine de Kooning.

Abstract expressionism is characterized by its loose brushwork, all-over composition, and the emphasis of surface rather than depth. Each piece has an intimidating yet feminine grandiosity to it, beckoning the viewer to take in the texture on the canvas and the contrasting colors of the paint.

The works are all vastly different, some using every color on their palette and some strictly layering black paint over and over; but they all exhibit an emotion of freedom and a lack of inhibition.

The Niza Knoll Gallery, located in the Santa Fe Historic Art District, is celebrating their seventh year. The gallery focuses on exhibiting art that is conceptual and enticing. They host a multitude of First Friday events such as monthly exhibitions, private concerts, and guest speakers.

This month the small gallery that is often described as quirky and unconventional—characterized by the technicolor portraits painted on the store front—is curating a show of intriguing women artists rooted in the traditions of abstract art whom live and work in Denver. The show features the works of Aliki McCain, Alisha Price, Ketty Devieux, Niza Knoll, and Victoria Eubanks.

The bodies of work share many characteristics of past abstract expressionists—although the works are more abstract than expressionist—the deliberate use of disorienting colors and creation of strange textures and images with their paints is a common element in both shows.

This small showing of artists does not compare to the bredth of work at the DAM. It is difficult to compare the work of artists living and working now to ones who were living and working in a vastly different time period. There is a wisdom and a tactfulness that the women express in their paintings, perhaps a quality that the small group of abstract artists have yet to gain.

Abstract expressionism may not be everyone’s cup of tea, as it is obscure and difficult to dissect, but in a world dominated by men, it is easy to feel restricted and confined in the art world. It’s refreshing, if not long overdue, to see the DAM’s Women of Abstract Expressionism from the 1940s and ‘50s as well as the Niza Knoll Gallery exhibiting a space for women and their art.

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