On view May 2–July 25, 2021, the exhibition features 50 works by 40 artists with ties to the East End who expanded and exploited the language of abstraction

Lee Krasner (American, 1908–1984) Comet, 1970, Oil on canvas, 70 x 86 inches. © 2021 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Image courtesy Kasmin Gallery 


WATER MILL, 4/15/2021The Parrish Art Museum opens Affinities for Abstraction: Women Artists on Eastern Long Island, 1950–2020, the lesser-known stories of artists who expanded and exploited the language of abstraction throughnovel and often critical contributions, on view May 2–July 25, 2021. In the early male-dominated years of Abstract Expressionism, women were often relegated to an ancillary role that minimized their stories and careers. Through 50 works by 40 women, Affinities for Abstraction places these artists firmly back into the narrative, demonstrating how they staked out their own unique territory. The exhibition traverses time periods and generations to reveal subtle and at times surprising connections between highly acclaimed early innovators and subsequent generations of artists, including 19 contemporary artists working today. Each of these artists has had ties to the East End of Long Island, calling the region home for a week, a season, or a lifetime. Affinities for Abstraction is organized by Alicia G. Longwell, Ph.D., the Museum’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator.

Affinities for Abstraction includes early practitioners such as Elaine de Kooning (1920–1989), Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011), Grace Hartigan (1922–2008), Lee Krasner (1908–1984), and Joan Mitchell (1925–1992), who made distinct and groundbreaking contributions to Abstract Expressionism through their diverse styles of art making. These seminal figures—each of whom spent formative periods of their careers on the East End—are joined by artists who have transformed abstraction over the past seven decades.

For example, in 1952, Frankenthaler invented a particularly lyrical type of color-field painting through her signature process of unfurling unprimed canvas on the floor and flooding it with paint that seeped and stained the fabric as in Yellow Vapor, 1965. In large-scale works like Comet, 1970, Krasner combined a lyrical quality of form with a sensuality in the application of paint. Hartigan’s canvases, such as Untitled (The Cardinal), 1959,were filled with active gesture, yet never abandoned content. Mitchell brought influences from nature—specifically the landscape and atmosphere of the East End—to her largely non-referential paintings like Pour Patou, 1976; and de Kooning maintained an interest in the figure as a source for her abstract representation, as in Sun Wall, 1986–1987.


            Amy Sillman (American, b. 1955) C, 2007. Oil on canvas, 45 x 39 inches. Bronzini Vender Family Collection       


Future generations continued to invigorate this tradition with new and distinct strategies toward content, shape, color, line, and gesture—and often imbued their work with personal history and response to timely issues. Women of color, including Howardena Pindell, Nanette Carter, and Virginia Jaramillo, were among the voices who lent relevance and vitality to the language of abstraction.

Pindell (b. 1943) employs a process of deconstruction and reconstruction, as in three untitled works from the mid-‘70s in which paint and hole-punched circles build up complex surfaces. In the following decades, the same approach served to address homelessness, AIDs, genocide, sexism, and apartheid. Always experimenting with techniques and materials, Joan Snyder (b. 1940) developed her visual vocabulary in the context of the Women’s Rights Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, followed by work focused on female sensibility and her own evolving identity. In later works, like Weeping Cherry Tree & Thee, 2020, where vertical paint streaks freeze mid-drip, the artist found inspiration in nature. Sue Williams (b. 1954), in her early career, focused on issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse in paintings filled with exuberant color and shape, seen in later works like 2001’s Irritated Weave, which reflects a more abstract, painterly style. Amy Sillman’s (b. 1955) stream of consciousness paintings, such as C, 2007, are pure abstraction with complex textures and colors that define her own visual language; and Mary Heilmann (b. 1940) counters Minimalism and Pop with rollicking brushwork while providing insight into personal history through precise titles, as in Narrow Lane #3, 2001, inspired by the view from her Bridgehampton home.


Participating Artists—Affinities for Abstraction:

Women Artists on Eastern Long Island, 1950–2020

Mary Abbott (1921–2019)               Grace Hartigan (1922–2008)            Betty Parsons (1900-1982)        

Marina Adams (b. 1960)                   Mary Heilmann (b. 1940)                  Howardena Pindell (b. 1943)

Victoria Barr (b. 1937)                      Virva Hinnemo (b. 1976)                  Dorothea Rockburne (b. 1932)         

Jennifer Bartlett (b. 1941)                 Sheree Hovsepian (b. 1974)             Dorothy Ruddick (1925–2010)        

Lynda Benglis (b. 1941)                    Jacqueline Humphries (b. 1960)       Anne Ryan (1889–1954)       

Nanette Carter (b. 1954)                   Virginia Jaramillo (b. 1939)               Ethel Schwabacher (1903–1984)

Louisa Chase (1951–2016)              Buffie Johnson (1912–2006)            Sonja Sekula (1918–1963)          

Elaine de Kooning (1920–1989)       Lee Krasner (1908–1984)                 Amy Sillman (b. 1955)

Natalie Edgar (b. 1932)                    Mercedes Matter (1913–2001)         Joan Snyder (b. 1940)             

Perle Fine (1908–1988)                   Joan Mitchell (1925–1992)               Pat Steir (b. 1940)

Connie Fox (b. 1925)                       Louise Nevelson (1899–1988)          Hedda Sterne (1910–2011)

Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011)    Ruth Nivola (1917–2008)                  Michelle Stuart (b.1933)    

Jane Freilicher (1924–2014)             Charlotte Park (1918–2010)             Sue Williams (1954)

Gertrude Greene (1904–1956)        


Parrish Art Museum

The Parrish Art Museum strives to illuminate the creative process, casting light on how art transforms our experience and understanding of the world in which we live. The Museum fosters connections between individuals, art, and artists through the care and interpretation of the collection, as well as the presentation of exhibitions, publications, educational initiatives, and programs. A center for cultural engagement with a focus on the East End of Long Island, the Parrish is a source of inspiration and a destination for the region, the nation, and the world.


Parrish Art Museum construction photography © Jeff Heatley.


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