11 Female Abstract Expressionists You Should Know, from Joan Mitchell to Alma Thomas
Abstract Expressionism is largely remembered as a movement defined by the paint-slinging, hard-drinking machismo of its poster boys Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. But the women who helped develop and push the style forward have largely fallen out of the art-historical spotlight, marginalized during their careers (and now in history books) as students, disciples, or wives of the their more-famous male counterparts rather than pioneers in their own right. (An exception is Helen Frankenthaler, whose transcendent oeuvre is often the only female practice referred to in scholarship and exhibitions around action painting.)
Even when these artists were invited into the members- and male-only Eighth Street Club to discuss abstraction and its ability to channel emotional states—as was the case with Perle Fine, Joan Mitchell, and Mary Abbott—their work rarely sold as well or was written about as widely or favorably. And these women received far fewer solo exhibitions than their male contemporaries. Some even changed their names, like Michael West, in an effort to combat the era’s sexism, or incorporated into their work tacit challenges to the status quo, as Elaine de Kooning did in her “Faceless Men” series.
Now in a long-overdue exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, a sizable, boundary-pushing group of female Abstract Expressionists are finally getting their due. Below, we spotlight some of the most innovative practitioners (admittedly, there are many more than 11).