I was recently catching up on the magazines that often stockpile my studio. I came across a photo in the Summer issue of Art Forum that caught my eye.
Here was a woman towering above a distinguished (and somewhat recognizable) group of men with this amazing look in her eyes as if she really does rule this roost. I learned through the caption that the image is a portrait of the Abstract Expressionists, also known as “The Irascibles”, that appeared in Life in 1951, and her name is Hedda Sterne. I was so intrigued by her image, yet as I scoured the pages that followed, nothing was mentioned of her despite at least a snippet on all the other (male) artists pictured.
In an interview with Sarah Boxer from 2010, Sterne (at the age of 100) said “I am known more for that darn photo than for eighty years of work. If I had an ego, it would bother me. It is a lie. I was not an Abstract Expressionist. Nor was I an Irascible.” Why do talented women so often get overlooked within the art world? In all my years of studying art history, I have never heard of this woman. Her work was championed by Peggy Guggenheim and collected by museums, yet she remained on the margins of the art world.