Toughen up, lady

Lately, exasperated by a custody dispute over my almost-14-year-old daughter, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a woman, and more specifically, what it means to be an artist mother. With some of my daughter’s heartbreaking reproaches about my art practice seared in my brain, I ventured out this week to see “To Be A Lady: Forty-five Women in the Arts,” a superb exhibition, curated by Jason Andrew, that features work by many legendary artist mothers, including Louise Nevelson and Grace Hartigan who famously left their offspring to be raised by others, and Alice Neel, an unconventional mother whose grandson Andrew’s documentary reveals his father’s deep resentment about Neel’s choices.

Curator Jason Andrew has a terrific eye, and most of the work in “To Be A Lady” offers a satisfying visual experience, but I was drawn to a 1973 seaside scene by Edith Schloss. Schloss, who lived in NYC in the 1940s and 1950s, moved to Rome in the early 1960s with her son after his father, Swiss-born photographer and experimental filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt, left her for painter Yvonne Jacquette. For artists there’s often a difficult story, isn’t there?

According to a 2002 article by Giovanna Dunmail, Schloss painted pictures that incorporated stillife imagery with vistas of the Mediteranean and wrote reviews, both for Tom Hess’s Art News and, for nearly twenty years, the International Herald Tribune. Although I didn’t find many images of Scloss’s paintings online, her son Jacob Burckhardt made a documentary about her in 2010, and I found this 2011 article from Wanted in Rome, a fortnightly magazine published in English for expats and tourists:

It had been our plan to put news on our website today of the new exhibition of work by Edith Schloss and her life-long friend Alvin Curran, which opens tomorrow 21 December. Instead we are bringing the sad news of her death at home today, 20 December. Her death was unexpected and sudden and came at a moment when she was looking forward to her exhibition with Alvin, of her watercolours over his musical scores, some of her most beautiful and lyrical work ever.

Edith and Silvia Stucky had hung the exhibition last week and it was in fact Silvia who found Edith on Tuesday morning when she went to exchange one watercolour for another to put in the exhibition. Edith would most certainly have wished to go while she was working, thinking about an exhibition and planning what she was going to do next. She would have hated a long and incapacitating decline and a loss of independence and all of us who knew and loved and worked with her would have hated to see her suffer in that way.

Her last few weeks after her return in September from Pietrasanta �where she went every summer to paint � were marked by a bad fall from which she made a recovery in record time. She then started work on the final details of the exhibition, the careful selection of the image for the invitation, meticulous writing of the introduction to the catalogue � a magnificent summing up of her life’s work and all in it that was important to her � and the selection of her poetry that she would read at the opening. In other words as much as a young person in good health would achieve and quite remarkable at 92.

Our last conversation was about the selection of the cover for Wanted in Rome to tie in with the exhibition and then, as though she had completed all she needed to do for the show, she said that she was going to finish off her next article for the magazine, something she had been promising us since the summer � an obituary of her dear friend and colleague Cy Twombly. “I’ve written too much already,” she said “and it’s on scraps of paper all over my desk. Now I’ve got to pull it all together and then I�ll leave the cutting to you.”

Edith always liked to write long and leave me to do the cutting. �I knew you would cut that,� she often said when I went through her pieces with her before publication. �Then why did you leave it in?� I would say. �Because I wanted to see what you would do,� she would reply with a twinkle.

I guess life just goes on. Until it doesn’t.

To Be A Lady: Forty-five Women in the Arts,” curated by Jason Andrew. 1285 Avenue of the Americas Art Gallery, New York, NY. Through March 21, 2013.

Featuring work by Alma Thomas, Charmion von Wiegand, Louise Nevelson, Alice Neel, Barbara
Morgan, Irene Rice Pereira, Janice Biala, May Wilson, Lenore Tawney,
Louise Bourgeois, Edith Schloss, Grace Hartigan, Ruth Asawa, Betye Saar,
Pat Passlof, Jay DeFeo, Susan Weil, Lee Bontecou, Viola Frey, Judy
Dolnick, Kathleen Fraser, Hermine Ford, Mimi Gross, Nancy Grossman,
Elizabeth Murray, Judy Pfaff, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Mira Schor, Mary
Judge, Nancy Bowen, Lindsay Walt, Michelle Jaff�, Elisabeth Condon,
Tamara Gonzales, Jessica Stockholder, Brece Honeycutt, Ellie Murphy,
Julia K. Gleich, Austin Thomas, Ellen Letcher, Rachel Beach, Vanessa
German, Kristen Jensen, Brooke Moyse, and Nathlie Provosty.

Image at top: Edith Schloss, Untitled, 1973, oil on canvas, 32 x 36 inches.

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One Comment

  1. "Thank You" is a very simplified way to express my gratitude for putting in words thoughts about the artist/mother and highlighting the "To Be A Lady" exhibition.

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