This Memorial Day Weekend, Eric Firestone Gallery unveils Hanging / Leaning: Women Artists on Long Island, 1960s-80s, a sweeping two-part exhibition celebrating the formal ingenuity of postwar women artists with connections to the East End of Long Island. Comprising 21 artists whose works were inspired as much by their coastal surroundings as by the realities of working as a female abstract artist in the late 20th century, Hanging / Leaning reflects the gallery’s mission of reexamining the postwar art scene and shedding new light on the practices of underrecognized artists of the era. On view May 28 through June 26, 2022, the exhibition unfolds across two exhibition spaces in East Hampton: the gallery’s primary location at 4 Newtown Lane; and its 7,000-square-foot warehouse at 62 Newtown Lane, opening to the public for the first time.
Hanging / Leaning takes its name from a 1970 exhibition organized by the Emily Lowe Gallery at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, which presented works by 12 contemporary artists-only two of whom were women, Eva Hesse and Nina Yankowitz-that went against the orientation and composition of traditional painting. Yankowitz contributed Sagging Spiro (1969) from her Draped Painting series of linen panels that she left unstretched, sprayed with acrylic in atmospheric expanses and bleeding bands of color, and stitched so that they tumble off the wall in soft folds. Sagging Spiro and other unconventional paintings from the same period will be on view in Eric Firestone Gallery’s exhibition. Shifting focus to spotlight the achievements of women abstractionists, this Hanging / Leaning explores the field expansively across art forms and media.
The exhibition additionally reflects on Long Island’s historical significance as a breeding ground for artists, in particular female artists, seeking to escape the chaos of New York City in the 20th century. In conjunction with the show, Christina Mossaides Strassfield, Director and Chief Curator of Guild Hall, will lead a panel discussion on Saturday, June 11, 4:00-6:00 PM focused on honoring and extending the legacy of Long Island cultural organizations that have supported women artists since the postwar era, including the Elaine Benson Gallery, Hillwood Art Gallery, Guild Hall, Nassau County Museum of Art, and the Parrish Art Museum.
Postwar Long Island was a hub of activity where art collectives and creativity flourished beyond the New York City scene. For instance, Miriam Schapiro settled in Wainscott, a legendary gathering place for artists, where in the 1960s and ’70s she cultivated her own abstract lexicon rooted in her experiences as a woman and mother. Featured in the exhibition is Schapiro’s Fan of Spring (1979), an impeccably constructed and painted fabric collage in the feminine shape of a fan that linked modern painting to women’s craft. Nanette Carter likewise found kinship on Long Island when in the 1970s and ’80s she became affiliated with Al Loving and other Eastville Artists, a collective of mostly Black American practitioners in Sag Harbor. In Carter’s oil pastels from that period, Illumination #1 (1984) and Illumination #41 (1986), countless miniscule marks swirl within surges of organic forms that visualize sound waves. Lucia Wilcox also became an early and significant part of the East End scene upon moving to Amagansett in 1944. After the onset of blindness in 1972, Wilcox continued to paint and conceived such oil paintings as The Four Quarters (1973), a composition divided into sections, each appearing as a whirling galaxy filled with circular eye-like motifs. This body of work motivated her close friend Willem De Kooning to create a series of paintings while blindfolded.
The landscape and atmosphere of the Hamptons itself often served as inspiration for postwar artists who moved to the region or stayed in houses on the East End. The natural light in East Hampton influenced the creative output of Li-lan, who until then had made work under artificial lights in dim studios in New York City and Tokyo. Her shift away from dark colors is evident in canvases such as Absent and Present, 1 (1979), an exquisite white expanse that reveals itself to be an open pad of paper only through the spiral binding depicted along the right edge. Similarly, Kay WalkingStick’s 1983 residency in Montauk was a watershed in her career: after experiencing the area’s topography, landscape became the root of both her abstract and representational compositions.
Other artists embraced unusual processes to capture their Hamptons environs. Sheila Isham noted her move to the East End as one that drew her closer to nature. Combing her beachy surroundings, Isham would hold seaweed, sponges, and other substances against canvas, using an airbrush to spray acrylic around them. This process resulted in dynamic storms of color such as Galaxy – Sun Penetrating Wind (1968). In another approach, Michelle Stuart rubbed soil and organic elements from sites like Long Island on paper, producing textured and tonal archives of place such as The Bridge (1975-80). Patsy Norvell, who by the 1970s had already been constructing intricate human hair compositions, shifted to sand-blasted glass inspired by the freedom of space and her blossoming gardens in Southampton. Appearing as a window or doorway to a thicket of flora (recalling the lattice archway in her backyard on Long Island), Lady in Waiting (1982) is one such monumental painted glass piece that Norvell conceived with her then-husband, Robert Zakanitch.
The exhibition also features works by artists whose early forays into abstraction have been largely overlooked, such as Joan Semmel and Carolee Schneemann. Bright saturated colors, dense clusters of shapes, and unusual spatial dynamics define Semmel’s abstract canvases of the 1960s and ’70s, which gradually gave way to the psychedelic palettes and surreal figure-ground relationships of her later art. By contrast, Schneemann created textured and thickly collaged paintings in the 1970s and ’80s in tandem with her performances which she described as “extending visual principles off the canvas.” An exemplary early Semmel is on view alongside Schneemann’s Green Line (1983), a work that shrouds painting’s conventional support in “man-made fabric” as it simultaneously rejects a key Abstract Expressionist principle that abstraction should not contain narrative content by alluding to the Lebanese Civil War.
Hanging / Leaning: Women Artists on Long Island, 1960s-80s includes works by Nanette Carter, Seena Donneson, Mary Grigoriadis, Sheila Isham, Valerie Jaudon, Joyce Kozloff, Li-lan, Pat Lipsky, Adrienne Mim, Patsy Norvell, Howardena Pindell, Dorothea Rockburne, Miriam Schapiro, Joan Semmel, Carolee Schneemann, Arlene Slavin, Michelle Stuart, Kay WalkingStick, Lucia Wilcox, Nina Yankowitz, and Barbara Zucker.
Stephi Wild is Managing Editor for BroadwayWorld. Among many hats, she curates the daily “Wake Up With BWW” briefing, and writes news, features, and reviews for Broadway and beyond. Stephi also created and developed the “K-Pop Spotlight” series on the BroadwayWorld sister site, BWW Music World, a move which allowed her to integrate her passion for the Korean music scene into her career!