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Grace Hartigan’s Birthday

1 The 1962 edition of Current Biography (Wilson) states "The most celebrated woman painter in the United States today, Grace Hartigan, is a leading member of the New York School of abstract expressionists. She produces approximately one major painting a month and often sells a work before oil is dry (p.192)."

During the 1950s Grace Hartigan was indeed one of the most popular American women artists. Born in 1922 she grew up with little formal training in the arts. However, she moved to New York City in 1945 and continued to live and paint in Manhattan's Lower East Side. In Greenwich Village she met fellow artists and in 1950 was chosen to be included in the "Talent" show organized by Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro. With such critical backing, fame and one-person exhibitions followed, resulting in Hartigan being one of the most prominent names of the second generation of the New York School which included Larry Rivers, Helen Frankenthaler, and Robert Rauschenberg.

During the 1950s, Hartigan began to move from pure abstraction and began to use figural representation in her work. During this transition she began a collaboration with the poet Frank O'Hara who was greatly involved with the modern art world. The result of this collaboration was twelve paintings titled Oranges which incorporated texts from O'Hara's poems. Hartigan continued to produced works incorporating figuration through her career. However, by the 1960s her work declined in popularity due to opposing factors. Champions of pure abstraction, such as Clement Greenberg, lambasted her for including representational aspects in her work. Additionally the 1960s saw the rise of Pop and Minimalism. She moved to Baltimore, Maryland and taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art while she continued to paint and exhibit. She continued to teach at MICA until the year before her death in 2008 and remains an important figure of the New York School second generation.

The Smithsonian Libraries contains many books about Grace Hartigan. Additionally the library for the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery has three folders in its vertical file collection. One item (show above) in the vertical files is the 1959 announcement for the Tibor de Nagy Gallery exhibition of eight of the Oranges paintings Hartigan created in collaboration with O'Hara, The image above also shows a reproduction of one of the works from that series displayed in the exhbition.

(Illustration: Oranges, No. 7 from In Memory of My Feelings: Frank O'Hara and American Art by Russell Ferguson. MOCA, LA: 1999).

Grace Hartigan (March 28, 1922 — November 15, 2008)

Doug Litts

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