Yesterday, the New York Times published an obituary for Hedda Sterne, an artist associated with the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. She passed on Friday. She was 100 years old.
(So, imagine if on your 64th birthday, you could sing The Beatles’ “When I’m 64″ comfortable in the knowledge that you had another third of your life, a full 36 years, to go? Just saying.)
In the photograph of artists shown below, which included art notables like Wilhelm de Koonig, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock, Sterne became known as one of The Irascibles, a group of artists who criticized the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950 for being “against advanced art” according to the Times.
People speculate about the reasons for an artist’s ascension to the heights of financial success and professional renown, and about the reasons for an artist’s failure to reach such heights. Although Sterne’s artwork enjoyed numerous public exhibitions and inclusions in significant collections, Sterne has no feature film like 2000′s Pollock featuring Ed Harris. Sterne has no Broadway play like Rothko’s “Red”. Sterne does have eulogists explaining her inability to reach the fame and renown of Rothko and Pollock, appreciating her 70 years of art creation, and recounting this artist’s accomplishments in a kind of apology.
The Romanian-born Sterne, born Hedwig Lindenberg, barely escaped Europe to New York before the Holocaust in 1939. She married cartoonist and fellow Romanian Saul Steinberg in 1944. They separated in 1960 with no children. She never remarried.
Despite the notoriety gained following the LIFE magazine photograph, she eventually chose a self-imposed reclusiveness, living along on the Upper East Side, continuing to create, show, and sell work, seeing few other than her close friends, art dealers, and the occasional visitor.
She is survived by a swath of questions. Was she marginalized because she was a woman artist in a man’s world? Was she less of an artist because of her wide-ranging exploration of style and genre? Did she fail to earn valuations in the millions simply because she failed to die young?
The Bare Square does not know.
Instead, we offer this retrospective of her work, and a hope that the current generation of artists, and the next, be lucky enough to have a fraction of her longevity, her passion, her dedication, and her solace.
- James Wallace