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Grace Hartigan at the Mennello Museum of American Art

Through March 11, 2018

“Grace Hartigan 1960 - 1965, The Perry Collection” features a rare selection of paintings and collages that represent the artist’s noted Abstract Expressionist style as it evolved in the early 1960s toward new levels of abstraction and representation. The show was organized by The Mennello Museum of American Art and guest-curated by Michael Klein, independent curator and art historian based in New York.

Grace Hartigan’s reputation as an important contemporary artist increased throughout the 1950s; she was the only woman represented in the much heralded MoMA’s 1956 show “Twelve Americans” that included Sam Francis, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, and Seymour Lipton; and her work was an integral part of MoMA’s “New American Painting” exhibition that toured eight countries in Europe in 1958 and 1959 and included Jackson Pollock, William de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Arshile Gorky, Clifford Still, and other leading Abstract Expressionist painters. She was the only woman artist in both exhibitions.

Hartigan is likewise noted for her influence on three generations, during her more than 40 years teaching graduate students as director of Maryland Institute College of Art’s (MICA) Hoffberger School of Painting, Baltimore.

Grace Hartigan, Reisterstown Mall, 1965, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Perry Collection, Courtesy of Michael Klein Arts, LLC.

Grace Hartigan, Reisterstown Mall, 1965, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Perry Collection, Courtesy of Michael Klein Arts, LLC.

The variety of paintings in this show ranges from 1960 to 1965, and they are assembled by Hartigan’s Washington D.C. dealer, the late Beatrice Perry. They are characteristic of Hartigan’s style at the time, a style of vivid color and texture painted on a large scale.

Similar works of this period are found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Albright Knox Art Gallery, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy. The selection also demonstrates the shift in mood and thought as Hartigan transitioned from her studio and work life in New York to Baltimore, Maryland where she lived, painted, and thought until her death in 2008.

More recently, Hartigan has been included in survey exhibitions looking at Abstract Expressionism from the lens of the 21st Century including: “Abstract Expressionist New York” at MoMA, 2010 that celebrated the achievements of a generation that catapulted New York City to the center of the international art world nearly 70 years ago and the groundbreaking exhibition ”Women of Abstract Expressionism” organized by Denver Art Museum, 2016 that celebrated the often unknown female artists of this mid-20th-century art movement.

“I think the thing about Hartigan that I admired the most is her purposefulness in her work,” states curator Michael Klein. “No matter the economic realities or the ebb and flow of the art world she had a plan for her work and she stuck to it. Her journals are very useful when it comes to learning about her thoughts and ideas as well as the day-to-day struggles to make ends meet while trying to paint and build a career in New York in the 50s.” www.mennellomuseum.org.

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