Thursday, 29 August 2013

Xenia Cage; the 31 Women number 20, her birthday is 28 August

Xenia Cage - 28 August 1913 Juneau, Alaska – d .1995 New York.

Xenia Andreyevna Kashevaroff Cage is not an forgotten artist, she is an unknown artist. She had a brief window of recognition from 1943 to 1945, though she was highly creative throughout her lifetime; she was a painter, sculptor, musician, designer, book binder, craft worker and conservator. She is one of those talented and versatile women who are routinely ignored, their careers over-shadowed by famous male partners. In Xenia’s case this was composer and writer John Cage, who was as revolutionary in the field of modern music as Marcel Duchamp had been in modern art. Xenia’s contribution in both fields has vanished during the creation of the John Cage mythology.

Xenia Cage, photograph
courtesy of Jennifer Page
So complete was this disappearance, even during Xenia’s lifetime, that Whitney Chadwick, academic champion of women in modern art in her 1985 book Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement mentioned John Cage but seemed unaware of Xenia. Chadwick was not alone. Cage scholars continue to treat the marriage as insignificant, yet Xenia collaborated with Cage for more than ten years, even after their divorce and he dedicated several pieces of music to her.

John and Xenia were both active participants in a radical cultural scene in the USA during the 1930’s and 1940’s, but Xenia’s participation in the world of modern music is still largely un-researched and the only significant acknowledgement of her contribution to modern art came in 2005.  

The full extent of Xenia Kashevaroff Cage’s career as a visual artist remains obscure, her own art works have proved very hard to trace. She is in New York's  Metropolitan Museum of Art, but only as the subject in photographs by Edward Weston.  One small painting by Xenia is in a public collection in her home state Alaska, any other works which survive are either in private hands or possibly attributed to someone else as, like many among the 31 Women, Xenia often collaborated with others. In her case these included artists Wolfgang Paalen, Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell, dancers and choreographers Jean Erdman and Merce Cunningham, as well as John Cage and other musicians.

Xenia Cage was described by Penelope Rosemont as being on the ‘cutting edge of surrealism in sculpture’. There is no record of what became of the abstract mobile that Xenia showed at the Exhibition of 31 Women, it was an elegant, fragile thing made from balsa wood and rice paper strung on slender wires. The first recorded public view of one of her mobiles was on 14 May 1941, when the Cage Percussion Players performed in San Francisco. Xenia decorated the performance space with a large balsa wood and rice paper mobile beneath which the musicians, including Xenia herself, performed - the movement and shadows cast by the mobile were an intrinsic part of the show. It's probable that Xenia was creating mobiles before this time, but none are known to have survived, even photographs are scarce.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Dorothea Tanning; the 31 Women number nineteen, her birthday is 25 August.

Artist and poet Dorothea Tanning is one of those amongst the 31 Women who can't accurately be described as a forgotten artist. A New York Times review in 1995 described her as, ...A painter who has become known in this country for not being better known.*  Her surrealist work was first discovered in New York in the 1940's, though she had her first exhibition in 1934, in New Orleans. However she wasn't more widely known at that stage.

Dorothea Tanning on

She developed something of an international presence in the 1950's after she moved to France, where she lived and exhibited widely and was accepted as a European surrealist, though in the shadow of her husband, Max Ernst. She returned to the US in 1980 and was almost seen as a European import, having to re-establish herself. Though her art began to move on from straight surrealism during the 1950's, it was her imaginative surrealist works which made her name and which she is best known for. She has been accepted as an important American artist and today her work can be seen in thirty-five public collections throughout the USA as well as nine more in Europe.

Dorothea Tanning discovered the route into her own creativity via an exhibition of Surrealist art. In 1936 she had just moved to New York, with an ambition to be a successful painter, but was forced to earn her living as a waitress and catalogue illustrator. She was only vaguely aware of Surrealism before she visited Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, Alfred Barr’s momentous show at the new Museum of Modern Art. The work that the 26 year old painter saw there was a revelation to her, for the first time she found something matching her own visions. She had drawn and painted from a very young age and as a child created a surrealist image without any prior knowledge, when she painted a nude with leaves for hair, to the horror of her Lutheran parents. Whether they were more horrified by the leaves or the nudity is not entirely clear.

She was one of three daughters from a Swedish immigrant family, living in the rural county of Galesburg, Illinois. The family called her Dottie. Despite their religious outlook which meant dancing was disapproved of, her father took her to see cowboy movies. Dorothea yearned after actor Lord Churlton, the villain of the Westerns, rather than the hero, Tom Mix. She said later, I have been very perverse over a very long period and I don’t suppose I’ll be anything else. * As a teenager her perversity also took the form of an ambition to live in Paris and be an artist. Her early career was deliberately conceived as a step by step journey towards this end, though she would not actually live and work in Paris until she was forty years old.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Pegeen Vail, the 31 Women number 18, Her birthday is 18 August

Pegeen Vail       18 August 1925 - 1967  
American painter 
Jezebel Margaret (Pegeen) Vail was born in Switzerland, the daughter of Peggy Guggenheim and her first husband, American artist and international bon viveur, Lawrence Vail.  Pegeen painted from early childhood and was encouraged by both parents, thought they agreed about little else. Pegeen is an artist who, although her work is exhibited as part of the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice, is ignored in serious reviews of art history and the reverse snobbery rife in this field is to blame. Those subscribing to the Clement Greenberg philosophy of art were unlikely to be interested in an artist not only born with a silver spoon, but also tirelessly pushed and promoted by her wealthy mother.

This is one of Pegeen’s tragedies, her work is only ever mentioned in relation to Peggy Guggenheim, although she tried all her adult life to break the ties that held her to her mother’s fame, fortune and personality, with only partial success.  On first viewing, her paintings appear cheerful, colourful, decorative and innocent. Their naiveté hides a darker, frequently troubled life which those who knew her are able to read as an undercurrent in her work, though this is not always especially visible to outsiders. Her doll like depictions of women, usually bare-breasted and some as self-portraits, could be indications of the powerlessness she felt about aspects of her life.

The painting of Pegeen's shown at the 1943 Exhibition of 31 Women, Joie De Vivre, although painted when Pegeen was only eighteen, was not her first exhibited work.  In 1938 her drawings had been shown at an exhibition of children’s art at her mother’s Guggenheim Jeune gallery in London.  This copied an idea from the French Surrealists, who had a fascination with the ‘innocent’ art of childhood.  Pegeen was in good company, work by a very young Lucien Freud was also included in the show.  Buyers included English surrealist Roland Penrose and Belgian surrealist E.L.T. Mesens and all Pegeen Vail’s pictures were sold, at least according to her mother.

Pegeen’s parents had first met when Peggy Guggenheim (then only 21) was, in deliberate defiance of her own mother, working at Sunwise Turn, an avant-garde bookshop in New York. They married in 1922, despite Florette Guggenheim’s disapproval, and migrated to Europe.  They moved around constantly, stopping in London for the birth of Sindbad, their son and were in a hotel beside Lake Geneva for Pegeen’s birth on 18 Aug 1925.  When not in school, Pegeen and her brother were dispatched to and fro at their parent’s convenience.  Peggy and Lawrence separated in 1929 and divorced two years later, Pegeen was officially in the custody of her mother, Sindbad of his father, but it was not always that straight-forward.
Pegeen spend much of her childhood with her father and his second wife, author, journalist and activist Kay Boyle, who was Pegeen’s stepmother until 1943 and provided her with three half-sisters. Her other companions in childhood included Debbie Garman, daughter of writer and publisher Douglas Garman and Barbara Reis, daughter of Peggy’s friends Bernard and Rebecca Reis; Bernard Reis was also Peggy’s controversial accountant and financial adviser. Barbara also became an artist.

In spite of moving around so much, Swiss born Pegeen did manage to gain an education, she went to a number of schools in France, beginning at a small bi-lingual school in Neuilly, France run by Peggy’s friend, writer Marie Jolas, whose daughter Betsy was a classmate and friend.  Whilst Pegeen became a painter, Betsy Jolas would grow up to be an influential composer.  The Jolas family were very much involved in the progressive literary world in 1930’s France, with Betsy’s father Eugene helping to edit the important magazine ‘transition’.  

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Irene Rice Pereira, the 31 Women number 17; Her birthday is 15 August.

Irene Rice Pereira (1902-1971) American artist, author, lecturer, poet, philosopher
I. Rice Pereira was a highly intellectual artist, who used the initial rather than her first name in an attempt to avoid the fact of her gender clouding the minds of those viewing her work. Her mid 1930’s social realist paintings and her later linear, textured and mysterious abstract paintings were not obviously gendered, but she felt that removing the issue of gender from the arena gave her work a better chance of being viewed objectively.  However she was an established artist by the end of the 1930’s so secrecy was out of the question, she was successful until the 1950s era of macho Abstract Expressionism, when her gender caught up with her. Like other women artists she became side-lined, but she went further to actively speak out against the abstract expressionist movement, consequently she was derided and almost written out of art history.
I Rice Pereira in 1938, when she
was one of the WPA artists chose
 for the 1939 World's Fair.
Photograph by Cyril Mipaas.

The issue of her age was another matter; she took off five years and was included in both of Peggy Guggenheim’s Spring Salons for Young Artists in 1943 and 1944 when she was already above the age limit of forty. Guggenheim’s records list her as being only 36 at the time of the 1944 spring show.

Actually born 15 August 1902 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Irene Rice was the eldest of 4; she had 2 sisters, Juanita & Dorothy, both artists and a brother James, who became an accountant. They were a creative family, enthusiasts for literature & music and one of her uncles was a sculptor. Their mother, Hilda Vanderbilt Rice was an amateur painter who encouraged  her artistic daughters.

Dorothy Rice studied at the Art Students League, whilst the youngest sister, Juanita, studied under Hans Hoffman. She would become known as a painter under her married name of Juanita Guccione  Marbrook.  Irene herself was an artistic and highly literate child. She had an early interest in the occult and the American transcendental poets and she read Aristotle & Plato when she was twelve. This led to her deep creative engagement with the works  of Jung. She continued to read and study throughout her life, with particular interest in transcendental philosophy.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Hedda Sterne; The 31 Women number sixteen. Her birthday is 4th August

Hedda Sterne was not an unknown woman artist, neither is she an entirely forgotten artist, though those who do remember her may be surprised to learn that she celebrated her centenary in 2010, passing away the following year. Those who have never heard of Hedda Sterne have only themselves to blame. She was first recognised by the Surrealists in Paris in the 1930’s, exhibited with them in the 40’s and was then associated with the New York School, when she was the only woman artist in the famous 1951 Life Magazine photograph, The Irascibles, by Nina Leen. They had all signed a letter of protest at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s attitude to contemporary American artists.

Hedda Sterne in 1977
That image has unfortunately dogged her ever since, tying her name to one moment in time, when she had a career spanning sixty plus years; Hedda Sterne had more than forty one-woman exhibitions and participated in many more group shows during her life. Her work was first seen widely in the 1940’s at Peggy Guggenheim’s Gallery, Art of This Century, appearing in four shows during the gallery’s first two years, though Guggenheim couldn’t claim to have given Sterne her first solo exhibition. This was down to Betty Parsons, who took over when Guggenheim left New York in 1947, however Parsons had actually staged Sterne’s first one woman show in 1943, while she was responsible for exhibitions at the Wakefield Gallery.

Parsons was also responsible for confusion about Hedda Sterne’s age, when she included Sterne in a group of young artists publicised in Life Magazine in March 24th 1950.  Sterne was already thirty-nine so six years were taken off her age, making her supposed birth-date 1916 - many later records use this erroneous date.
Hedwig Lindenberg was born on 4th August 1910 in Bucharest, Romania. Her parents were Eugene Wexler and Simon Lindenberg and she had an older brother, Edouard, who became a musician. The family were cultured and literate, Eugene wrote poetry and Simon was a language teacher. Hedda was tutored at home by her father and also began art lessons early, copying drawings from books on Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Titian when she was seven and having private drawing lessons from Romanian sculptor Friederic Storck before she was ten. Surrealist artist Victor Brauner was a family friend. Her father died when she was ten and her mother re-married, after which Hedda was sent to school in Bucharest.