Although she painted with influential giants including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, you probably haven't heard of Ruth Abrams. Largely overlooked in her own time, and nearly forgotten after, Abrams painted outside of the zones deemed acceptable for women. Instead she swapped styles with men known widely for the misogyny as well as their artistic talent, the Abstract Expressionists. Abrams was deemed a "woman unfairly neglected in a macho era" in The New York Times in 1986, yet in the years to come she never received an exhibition of her own, until now. Yeshiva University Museum is hosting a retrospective of Abrams' work entitled "Microcosms: Ruth Abrams, Abstract Expressionist."
The Brooklyn-born artist attended art school at Columbia University, working with sculptors William Zorach and Jose de Creeft, as well as painters John Graham, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Wallace Harrison. At 19 years old she married urban planner Charles Abrams, but two years later, after the death of her mother, Abrams journeyed to Mexico with a fellow artist. It was only one more year before Abrams held her first gallery exhibition at A.C.A. in New York. Although she belonged to the New York School of painting, Ab-Ex buffs will recognize the movement's penchant for pure expression of the psyche through gestures of color in Abrams' style. She served as the art director at the Research Association of the The New School and a lecturer at Parsons (aka The New School for Design.
Abrams' retrospective will center around her "Microcosms" series, in which Abrams conveyed the infinite space and freedom of the cosmos with tiny paintings as small as two by three inches. As the concept of space travel was picking up speed in the 1950's and onward, many Ab-Ex artists were harnessing the possibilities of unbridled space in their work. Yet while most other artists used large-scale canvasses to convey the magnitude of the topic, Abrams did the opposite. Yeshiva University Museum will show over 70 of these works, which conflate the physical size of the canvas with their colossal affect, many being shown for the first time.
Alongside "Microcosms" the retrospective will feature Abrams' only film, screened for the first time in 40 years. "Paradox of the Big" explains Abrams' vision behind the "Microcosms" collection, giving a rare glimpse into the mind and artistic process of a little-known talent. Other pieces from her career will be on display as well, including still lifes, landscapes and collages that conjure the influence of artists from Matisse to Rauschenberg. "Trip to Jamaica" contains the palette and short temper of Willem de Kooning, while "Conversation in Corfu" channels a soft, pseudo-pastelled surrealism recalling Edouard Vuillard's melting interiors. Between her knowledge of art's past and courage to thrust her work into its future, Abrams deserves to take her rightful place amongst female artists like Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning and Joan Mitchell.
Abrams' paintings evoke a fearless sensitivity not often visible in the aggressively active, almost violent Ab-Ex aesthetic. Yet rather than conform to a prescribed feminine style, Abrams captures the space where action can co-exist with emotion and contemplation, where a tiny canvas can convey the giant wonder of the cosmos, and where an overlooked artist can take her place, however long overdue, among the shapers of art history.
"Microcosms: Ruth Abrams, Abstract Expressionist" will show at Yeshiva University Museum from August 12, 2012‐January 6, 2013.
See a preview of the works below and let us know what you think in the comments: