martes, 18 de septiembre de 2018


The story of how the 20th century artist, Gertrude Abercrombie, was entrenched in the depths of Chicago’s dark, turbulent, discriminatory, social, and political reality.
Rosey Selig-Addiss

Gertrude Abercrombie, “Compote and Grapes” (1941), (courtesy Karma, New York, collection of Laura and Gary Maurer)

Who is Gertrude Abercrombie? An exhibition and its book — the first show of her work in New York since 1952, organized by Dan Nadel — is here to introduce you. Abercrombie (1909-1977) is a surrealist painter who lived and worked in Chicago in the mid-twentieth century. As the “Gertrude Stein of the Midwest,” Abercrombie reigned over the cultural scene of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood from the 1930s to the 1970s, where she held lively dinner parties and salons that included many of the city’s legendary jazz musicians, writers, and artists.  In fact, James Purdy based one of the characters in his novel Malcom (1959) off of Abercrombie herself (which then became the basis of Edward Albee’s play of the same title), Ernst Krenek composed one of his operas while renting the second floor of her home (likely Dark Waters (1950)), and in 1956 pianist Richie Powell composed “Gertrude’s Bounce” in her honor, which he recorded with Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Clifford Brown, and George Morrow, all of whom were regular guests at her gatherings.

Gertrude Abercrombie, “Landscape with Church” (1939), (courtesy Karma, New York, collection of Laura and Gary Maurer)

Abercrombie’s home also offered a safe-space for collaborations between artists, musicians, and writers of varying racial and sexual identities at a time when such spaces were as rare as they were important. In a note from her close friend, writer Karl Priebe, the tension of this era and the importance of Abercrombie’s friendship and support in the face of poignant hatred and discrimination is particularly clear. Priebe was openly gay and in an interracial relationship, a situation in the 1940s which necessitated great attention and care to protect himself and his partner, Frank Roy Harriet. In response to an invitation to join Abercrombie at a party, Priebe replies, “You made me so happy by writing. Here is the problem so answer. Frank H. is living with me and is colored and if we can come in the face of that we will. I mean — if Aidan’s place will allow, then definitely we will be there. So find out and write and we’ll appear. I would love to see you so report.”…………….

Gertrude Abercrombie, “St. Brigit” (1963), (courtesy Karma, New York, private collection)

Finally, Abercrombie’s paintings offer a foil for understanding just how masculine the general conception of twentieth century surrealist art remains. That said, the weight of any systematic attempt to re-appropriate historical legacies fraught with injustice and discontent is notably missing from Abercrombie’s delicate, otherworldly canvases. As with “Wall with Giraffe” — Abercrombie’s work straddles the tension between that which is simple, magical, and free, and that which is turbulent, dark, and unavoidable — the beauty of a moment of friendship and the reality of a wall in between. What is perhaps most astounding about Abercrombie, and lends such depth to her simple canvases, is the tension that she herself embodied: entrenched in the depths of Chicago’s dark, turbulent, discriminatory, social and political reality, Abercrombie created the possibility for a daily life that promoted generosity, freedom, and collaboration. As Abercrombie explained, “Surrealism is meant for me because I am a pretty realistic person but don’t like all I see. So I dream that it is changed. Then I change it to the way I want it.”………….

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