December 27, 2019–February 15, 2020
LewAllen Galleries, Santa Fe
Recently the LewAllen Galleries brought to Santa Fe Esphyr Slobodkina: Six Decades of Groundbreaking Painting, Collage, and Sculpture, a highly coherent and stimulating body of work by one of the forerunners of American abstract art.
Slobodkina is credited with translating concepts of European modernism into the American idiom and advocating for the acceptance of abstraction into the prevailing currents of U.S. art in the 1930s and ’40s. In her lifetime, she enjoyed critical acclaim and acceptance by critics, galleries, and museums across the country. Just as importantly, she is recognized for her staunch independence, inventiveness, and the zeal with which she pursued her own vision. Eschewing the traditional roles of wife and mother, she was married for just three years to her former art tutor, Ilya Bolotowsky.
Slobodkina’s works at LewAllen all reveal a concern with creating tight, well-thought-out compositions consisting of interlocking geometric shapes, line, and color, together with the occasional abstracted figure or object. Modest in size, each of the twenty-six paintings and collages represents a carefully thought-out spatial, compositional, and chromatic problem that she set out to solve using novel approaches each time. While bringing the totality of the formal elements employed into a pleasing whole, each of her compositions retains a quality of inner tension. That tension invariably takes hold of viewers and joins them in dialogue with the artist, not about what the works mean, but rather about how objects and structures both out in the world and in our minds occupy space and relate to one another.
In this regard, she shares similar concerns with European abstract painters such as Picasso, Braque, Legér, and Miró. Clearly, this concern was mirrored in the world of industry, machinery, and building styles of the twentieth century that were for her an inexhaustible source of fascination. About her work, New York Times art critic Grace Glueck wrote, “None of Ms. Slobodkina’s works suffer from her versatility. They are all of a creative piece and a pleasure to behold.” This sentiment is underlined beautifully in the retrospective at LewAllen.