Monday, August 13, 2007

Elizabeth Murray (1940 - 2007)

Elizabeth Murray passed away (from complications from lung cancer). From the New York Times obituary by Roberta Smith:
Ms. Murray belonged to a sprawling generation of Post-Minimal artists who spent the 1970s reversing the reductivist tendencies of Minimalism and reinvigorating art with a sense of narrative, process and personal identity. Her art never fit easily into the available Post-Minimal subcategories like Conceptual, Process or performance art. This may have been because her loyalty to painting, which was out of fashion, was unwavering. At the same time, her blithe indifference to the distinctions between abstraction and representation or high and low could put off serious painting buffs.

Both tendencies enabled her to be one of a small group of painters — including Philip Guston, Frank Stella and Brice Marden — who during the 1970s rebuilt the medium from scratch, recomplicating and expanding its parameters and proving that it was still ripe for innovation, in part because of its rich history.
We had gone a few rounds about Ms. Murray's work and the response to her 2006 MoMA retrospective here. At that time, at the moment in her career when Murray's place in art history was its most secure, Michael Kimmelman noted:
She has pursued a problem partly inherited from Cubism, and filtered through Surrealism and comics. It is how to get movement (translating her absorption in the sensuous push and pull of pigment) into a static image - how to make a figurative painting, even when its subjects are inert objects like tables and glasses, convey instability, fracture, speed, collapse, explosion, thrust. This isn't a new problem, of course. Among others, Ms. Murray has had her great hero Cézanne to emulate.

Her inclination has been to nudge painting toward relief sculpture: to concoct and combine panels and shaped canvases that teem with goofy incident and stuff. What results can look as rickety as an old jalopy. Paint pools, congeals and drips. Sides and edges of canvases stay unfinished, like the backs of stage props, openly belying their ostensible illusions. You love them or not for their messiness.
May she rest in peace.

Labels: obituary


Blogger Mark Creegan said...

As a painting student, her work was very important to me. Her thick paint surfaces, odd shaped canvases, playfulness, and bold use of color especially struck me. Of course I didnt know her in person, but in interviews and in her Art 21 feature she seemed very kind with a sincere humility that will be missed.

For me those are the qualities that impress me more than anything. My sympathies to her family and friends.

8/13/2007 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous pp said...

True - you write in your 2005 blog note that 50% of people like her work and the other 50% did not that much - but she looks to have been a type of person (now rarer) who was liked by 100%.

8/13/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...


8/13/2007 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

Interesting discussion from her retrospective. She's one of those painters who make it crystal clear to me that we all resonate at different frequencies--when I came across her piece in the 'What is Painting?' show at MoMA this month, I was forcefully struck by how much the work was not for me, personally, and simultaneously how much I respected the labor, exploration and commitment behind it. Also the personality behind the painting seemed quite likeable. I am sorry not to have known her.

8/13/2007 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger prettylady said...

P.S. As much as Murray's work doesn't resonate with me, I find it to be more interesting, creative, clever and playful than the work of Frank Stella or Brice Marden, by an order of magnitude.

8/13/2007 06:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Gilda said...

Elizabeth Murray had a presence here in the Metropolitan Detroit arts world for many years, starting with a visiting artist gig at Wayne State in the mid 1970's, to showing at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery. She was a visiting artist at the school where I teach just a few years ago, and she was surrounded by students.

I was truly shocked to hear of her passing, even though I knew she had battled cancer. Her works were always an inspiration for me, as well as her fresh, vital, energetic personal manner. God Bless you, Elizabeth, and rest in peace.

8/13/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

i reacted against Elizabeth Murrays work. Sometimes I acted out. But I never respected her, not even as a woman artist. Frank Stella on the other hand - did he own a SUV? Because I like Bryce Marden's work and I know he has an SUV. Marden is more Zen though. Elizabeth Murray had a presence in my undergrad - she was well known and imitated by peopel who read art magazines. I thought those people were phonies - soething I regret because I burned a lot of bridges to lucrative jobs at Starbucks and art supply stores.

Well now she's gone no use pissing on the fire.

8/13/2007 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Roberta's use of "vivid forms" to describe EM's work, while accurate, is hardly original - i was trying to locate its use in art-critical history. Anyone?

Oh yeah if anyone wwith feelings is reading this, tough.

8/13/2007 10:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't like her work, but also felt that she was dismissed in a very sexist manner, so I feel a bit like a gender traitor in not defending her work. But I just never liked it.

But she was absolutely right when she said that no one ever trivialized Cezanne's paintings of cups and saucers and apples as "domestic" or homebodyish, housewifely, etc., like they did with hers. I think, even as a woman, I am guilty of that too; when I saw her giant coffee cups flying around, I thought, ick, housewife in the kitchen, painting between the children's feedings and the housework, whereas when a man paints cups, one doesn't think that. We all have to watch those sexist assumptions.

8/14/2007 12:46:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I like the playful theatricality of her earlier work. It almost feels primary at times, like something intended for grade schoolers.

When it began appearing in the 80's it came off to me as fresh and more humorous than for example Salle or Schnabel or the aforementioned Marden. It was willing to take pratfalls and act nutty in a crowd, a quality I enjoy especially when one considers how so many take themselves so seriously.

Her show last year in Chelsea struck me as very repetitive, as though she'd landed on a formula and just kind of kept banging it out. Maybe it was the cancer painting.

Funny to me how much hostility this goofy undulating work can elicit.

8/14/2007 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

"But she was absolutely right when she said that no one ever trivialized Cezanne's paintings of cups and saucers and apples as "domestic" or homebodyish, housewifely, etc., like they did with hers."

Maybe not in writing, but uh, plenty of people don't like still life painting for those reasons - male or female.

The hostility is generated because she shares some qualities with OTterness, in my mind. And Otterness makes me want to punch something - Must be good work, I guess.

8/14/2007 11:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Otterness's work must be good because it makes you want to punch something? Please explain.

I know this is a whole nother issue, but I can't appreciate Ot's work ever since I heard about the dog-killing incident. Especially since his work seems so "playful" and "childlike".

8/15/2007 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

she shares some qualities with OTterness...

Is the connection you're thinking that the work of both has a childlike quality?

Don't know why I never warmed up to TO. Maybe it all began looking to me like shiny tin toys without the paint.

Oddly enough I'm starting to warm up to (old) Hirst now -- !

Never knew the dog story. Yeesh.

8/15/2007 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Childlike but adult - so its the same reason I dislike ROnald McDonald - comes from the same place. If you dont thik so I cant argue the point - just a gut reaction.

Any reaction is a good reaction, so admitting to a reaction makes it seem better. But I dont feel like it matters int he end. Sme kids like it, fine, but kids like Ronald McDonald too, and its shit.

8/15/2007 10:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must be the same reason I dislike Ronald Reagan. Can't explain it, just a gut reaction.

8/16/2007 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

artnet only had one short paragraph for EM, at the end of the news. and the other day finch writes an obit for the guy from art & auction?? so disrespectful.

8/16/2007 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger ec said...

I loved her work in the 80s and when she went back to flat canvas in the 90s. She was a hard-core, died in the wool painter. Plus, she was intelligent and real. She did what she wanted. Power to her. Painter among painters, like her work or not. RIP.

8/17/2007 05:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. She is one of the dyed in the wool artists, they are always the ones that stick to what they are doing despite criticism. they go in and out of favor because they do what they want and don't follow market trends, she is part of a rare mutant breed of successful artists with integrity, even though I'm not a big fan of her work, I have great respect for her as an artist, she earned her stature.

8/18/2007 07:33:00 PM  

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