Catching up on some magazines, I came across an article in the New York Review of Books on Hedda Sterne, one of a group of Abstract Expressionists nicknamed The Irascibles. In 1950, a group of artists sent a letter to several newspapers protesting the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s lack of encouragement of modern artists. The group was nicknamed The Irascibles and written up in Life Magazine, featuring a photograph which included Sterne not only as the only woman, but towering over the men (a pose which she insists was accidental but which irritated them).

Although Sterne was grouped with the Abstract Expressionists, she didn’t consider herself attached to any school. Her style was occasionally surrealistic, at times conceptual. She knew that her varied style hindered her success, but claimed she had no interest in commercial success. She considered her art a direct expression of her thoughts and ideas.

“I have a feeling that in art, the need to understand and the need to communicate are one,” she said.

Sterne was largely self-taught. She was born in Romania and lived in Paris until 1941, when she and her first husband, Frederick Sterne fled to America in advance of the Nazi occupation. In New York, she was included in a show introducing Surrealism to the United States called First Papers of Surrealism, curated by Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp. In 1944, she married Saul Steinberg. Recently, Sterne turned 100. Despite macular degeneration, continued drawing into her nineties, though a stroke she experienced a few years ago has left her nearly blind.

I’ve developed a fascination in those female artists who, for whatever reason (the male-centric art world?) have been forgotten or ignored. Francine Prose touched on a few of them in her excellent book, The Lives of the Muses. But only a few…it’s a long list.

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