History of Art and Fine Art alumna Sarah Humphreville has recently curated Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she works as a Senior Curatorial Assistant. Labyrinth of Forms, drawn primarily from the Whitney’s collection, features over thirty works by twenty-seven artists and seeks to highlight the achievements of these groundbreaking figures and explores how works on paper were important sites for experimentation and invention.
During the 1930s and 1940s, abstraction began to gain momentum as an exciting, fresh approach to modern artmaking in the United States, and a small contingent of American artists dedicated themselves to it. A significant number of American abstractionists were women, and their efforts propelled the formal, technical, and conceptual evolution of abstract art in this country. A few, such as Lee Krasner and Louise Nevelson, have been duly recognized, but most remain overlooked despite their contributions.
While abstraction would prevail in the United States after World War II, in the preceding decades American abstractionists were vastly outnumbered by realist practitioners. Maligned by critics, and largely ignored by museums and galleries, these artists nevertheless saw themselves as aesthetic revolutionaries. In contrast to their European counterparts, who were often involved with movements defined by manifestos, they felt free to experiment, harnessing a broad range of styles to express the mood of the twentieth-century United States. Buoyed by modernist art courses and new venues for viewing European avant-garde art, they forged a network of overlapping communities, organizations, and creative spaces that allowed them to support one another, exchange ideas, and exhibit their work. Women were key figures in such groups, often taking on leadership roles. They also wrote and lectured on abstraction and advanced methods of making, particularly in print media. Though many of these artists still deserve wider acclaim, their influence and ideas resonate even today.
Humphreville has worked at the Whitney since 2012, beginning as a summer intern. At the Whitney, she has also worked on the exhibitions Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945, Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist, Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables, and Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, among other projects. Sarah received a BA, summa cum laude, in art history, and a BFA in painting with a minor in drawing from Cornell University in 2009. She received the Charles Goodwin Sands Memorial Medal for her fine arts thesis, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and served as the Degree Marshal for BFA. recipients. In 2013, she received her MA from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, for which she completed a thesis on Edward Hopper and Dan Flavin.
Right: Charmion von Wiegand (1896–1983), Untitled, c. 1942. Collaged paper, opaque watercolor and pen and ink on paper, 8 1/2 × 8 1/16 in. (21.6 × 20.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Alice and Leo Yamin 91.84.5. © Estate of Charmion von Wiegand; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY