Press Release: The Painted Sculpture of Betty Parsons

The Art Gallery of The Graduate Center will present The Painted Sculpture of Betty Parsons from September 12-December 9, 2006. Featuring 35 of the remarkable painted constructions that Parsons—a legendary art dealer who was also an accomplished painter and sculptor—made from 1966 until her death. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12-6 pm. The Graduate Center is located at 365 Fifth Avenue/34th Street. Informal talks on the exhibition will be presented by Art Gallery Curator Dr. Diane Kelder on Wednesdays at 1 pm.

The Painted Sculpture of Betty Parsons was organized by the Naples Museum of Art (Naples, Florida), which lent the artworks, and curated by Judith Goldman. It is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. The exhibition has been made possible by a generous grant from The Betty Parsons Foundation.

As a dealer and gallery owner, Betty Parsons (1900-1982) promoted the careers of three generations of American artists including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Tuttle. Meanwhile, she pursued a parallel path as a painter and sculptor, exhibiting her own work regularly in galleries and museums. (Having decided to become a sculptor at the age of 13, she eventually studied sculpture with Antione Bourdelle and Aleksandre Archipenko and drawing with Ashille Gorky and John Graham.) But her reputation as a dealer overshadowed her work as an artist, and, until recently, her art has not received the recognition it deserves.

In 1966, Parsons began making the painted sculptures included in this exhibition. Made of distressed wood, washed ashore by the sea (not natural drift-wood, but wood from man-made objects), these brightly painted, primitively assembled constructions have the aura of toys. From her beachfront home and studio in Southold, Parsons worked intuitively, using the sea as her collaborator. Of her materials, she said, "They were pieces of houses or docks or boats or signs....And something happened and they were lost. They were tossed about in the sea for I don't know how long. And then they wash ashore, broken and changed, and I find them." With titles such as One-eyed Lighthouse, Winged Frog, and Fish, these whimsical creations may be Betty Parson's most important and lasting works.

"On first viewing, their simplicity and crude finish connect them to folk and outsider art," says curator Judith Goldman in the exhibition's catalog, "but they are also informed by the artists that Parsons represented." The rectangles of Rothko, the discarded objects of Rauschenberg, and the mysticism of Newman all resonate in these powerful works, described by painter Cleve Grey as "tangible messages from an unyielding spirit," and by Edward Albee as "defiantly non-trendy."

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of The City University of New York. The only consortium of its kind in the nation, the school draws its faculty of more than 1,700 members mainly from the CUNY senior colleges.

Established in 1961, The Graduate Center has grown to an enrollment of about 4,000 students in more than 30 doctoral programs and six master's degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The Graduate Center also houses 28 research centers and institutes, administers the CUNY Baccalaureate Program as well as a number of other university-wide academic programs, and offers a wide range of intellectual and cultural programs of interest to the general public.

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Submitted on: SEP 12, 2006

Category: James Gallery | Press Room