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The macho, paint-flinging poster boys of Abstract Expressionism—Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning—are often considered the pioneers of the style. However, history seems to have forgotten about the women who helped define the American art movement. Similar to the overlooked female artists from the 15th–19th centuries, women painters of the post-war Abstract Expressionist era received far less recognition than their male counterparts. Yet, their thick skin and bold determination shines through in their striking paintings that deserve to be celebrated.
Many gallerists in the later half of the 1950s insisted that female artists were not marketable. Women were marginalized in the art world, often functioning as supportive wives first and artists second. This notion prompted female Abstract Expressionists to downplay their work in favor of promoting their husbands.
Artist Elaine de Kooning, who was married to Willem, showed her work alongside her husband’s in the 1951 exhibition Man and Wife at the Sidney Janis Gallery. The show also included the works of other artist couples, including Pollock and Lee Krasner, and Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. Later, Elaine spoke about the show: “It seemed like a good idea at the time, but later I came to think that it was a bit of a put-down of the women. There was something about the show that sort of attached women-wives to the real artists.”
It wasn’t until 2016—after many of them had died—that female Abstract Expressionists had their own show. The works of de Kooning and 12 other women painters—including Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, and Krasner—were featured in the Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibition organized by the Denver Art Museum. The purpose of the showcase was to highlight the incredible talents of these women and to recognize them as pioneers of the movement.
In honor of some of the trailblazing female artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement, My Modern Met has put together a helpful infographic to learn more about eight of them. Share it to keep their legacy alive!