“Grace Hartigan: Works From 1960-65 at the X Contemporary Art Fair, Miami”
by John Seed
Grace Hartigan, whose work played the range between abstraction and representation once told an interviewer: “Now as before it is the vulgar and the vital and the possibility of its transformation into the beautiful which continues to challenge and fascinate me.” Hartigan’s interest in incorporating an eclectic range of images into her paintings–including mannequins, coloring books, images from film, Old Master paintings, and store window displays– vitalized her art but eventually caused the influential critic Clement Greenberg to withdraw his support.
Greenberg, and other influential figures of the time didn’t understand what she was trying to do and the painter Willem de Kooning once reduced her to tears by telling Hartigan that she “completely mis-understood modern art.” The rise of “Pop” art and a move to Baltimore in 1960 removed Hartigan’s once top-flight career from the spotlight, and her reputation has never fully recovered. Even if Hartigan can’t be neatly labeled as an “Abstract Expressionist” her status as a pioneering woman artist at a time when men dominated the field invites study.
Curator Michael Klein, who has been studying and assembling a small exhibition of Hartigan’s works from the early 1960s, thinks a new examination of Hartigan’s achievement is overdue, and he asks a powerful question: just where where does her art, and the art of other pioneering women artists of the 1950s and 60s fit into the “canon” of American painting?