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West Coast Women of Abstract Expressionism

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Furthering Berry Campbell’s focus on women artists working in the 1950s, the gallery presents West Coast Women of Abstract Expressionism, a group exhibition featuring 24 women artists living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. After World War II, the avant-garde art world shifted from Paris to New York, making the downtown scene in New York the center of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Concurrent with the scene in New York, San Francisco was its parallel on the West Coast as a bohemian enclave. Much like the few recognized women Abstract Expressionists from the East Coast, only a handful of women artists from the West Coast have broken into the larger art world canon, most notably Joan Brown, Jay DeFeo, Deborah Remington, and Sonia Gechtoff. These women are a narrow representation of the robust and diverse community living and working on the West Coast in the 1950s.

When speaking of the freedom that the Bay Area scene granted the women artists during the 1950s, Gechtoff recalled:

There was none of that macho bullshit. When I came to New York I was horrified at how the female artists were being disregarded. I think it was different in San Francisco because there were no commercially viable galleries….It gave us permission to be more experimental.[1]

Ground zero for many of the West Coast women was the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA). Professors like Douglas MacAgy, Doris (Dorr) Bothwell, and Clyfford Still were active in the New York scene and brought fresh ideas and a renewed energy to the school. Students who passed through CSFA were Ruth Armer, Bernice Bing, Lilly Fenichel, and Emiko Nakano, among others. Another center was the University of California, Berkeley with graduates Jay DeFeo, Claire Falkenstein, Zoe Longfield, and Masako Takahashi.

This exhibition highlights the work of recognized artists such as Joan Brown, Jay DeFeo, Sonia Gechtoff, and Deborah Remington, while bringing to light many of the significant artists that have only recently begun to be receive much-deserved research and recognition. Artists featured are Ruth Armer, Katherine Barieau, Bernice Bing, Adelie Landis Bischoff, Pamela Boden, Dorr Bothwell, Joan Brown, Marie Johnson Calloway, Jay DeFeo, Claire Falkenstein, Lilly Fenichel, Sonia Gechtoff, Nancy Genn, Ynez Johnson, Zoe Longfield, Emiko Nakano, Irene Pattinson, Margaret Peterson, Sonya Rapoport, Deborah Remington, Frann Spencer Reynolds, Nell Sinton, Masako Takahashi, and Ruth Wall.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 46-page catalogue with an essay by Frances Lazare.

[1] Sonia Gechtoff quoted in Rosemary Cartens, “The Divine Dozen: Sonia Gechtoff’s Star Still Shines Brightly,” June 22, 2016. https://www.wordsandpaint.com/wildlife-best-stories/divine-dozen-sonia-gechtoff.