Abstract Expressionist Joann Gedney’s “Magnificent Obsession”

Though she’s often left out of 1950s narratives of the New York School, artist Joann Gedney lived it all firsthand, and was a notable contributor to the lively 10th Street scene. Following graduation from Wheaton College, Gedney moved to New York in 1947, drawn to the mythologized artists’ mecca that was the East Village. Appropriately coining her fixation with the city at the time a “magnificent obsession,” she moved into an apartment where she met fellow Abstract Expressionist, Milton Resnick. Quickly swept up into the world of Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Hans Hoffman, Gedney attended the artist Philip Pavia’s legendary panels discussing the clashes of abstraction and expressionism, and witnessed the resulting movement’s formation. A founding member of March Gallery, a 10th Street artist cooperative in the late ’50s, Gedney and over 60 of her early works get their due this month at “Magnificent Obsession: Joann Gedney” at IFAC Arts, curated by Gregory de la Haba.

The abstract versus expressionist conflict is manifest in Gedney’s early paintings, a heterogenous grouping of explorations into landscapes, nonfigurative form, expressive line, and composition. While in some works like Landscape I (1957) her brushstrokes resemble the movement found in much of of Joan Mitchell’s works, others, like Untitled (1955), are more along the lines of de Kooning. In Homage to Gorky (1956) Gedney acknowledges the influence of her forbears, calling out the late Surrealist Arshile Gorky, whose works figured prominently in the rise of Abstract Expressionism.

Fellow artists aside, Gedney’s works on view at IFAC Arts offer a rare snapshot into her formative years and her gradual embrace of abstraction. Beginning with experimentations like Earliest Abstract Study (1948), a landscape featuring passages of abstraction, Gedney departed from representation. From the mid-‘50s through the early ‘60s she achieved a complete transition, with confident works like Landscape II (1957), Untitled (1959), and Tenth Street Corner (1963). An energetic, inspired selection of paintings, Gedney’s works serve as testament to her skill as a young artist, and capture a vibrant chapter of art history.

Magnificent Obsession: Joann Gedney” is on view at IFAC Arts, New York, Mar. 7th–Apr. 7th, 2014.

Archival images courtesy of Getty Images.

Follow IFAC Arts on Artsy.

Share article