At the Galleries

The Hudson Review

Karen Wilkin, Winter 2022

As a more varied diet, the past season also offered little-known works by a postwar sculptor, a surprise from a modern master, responses to a special location by young contemporaries, and an impressive number of exhibitions by women, both those working currently and from the recent past. To begin with the women, at Washburn Gallery in Chelsea, “Alice Trumbull Mason: Shutter Paintings” presented severe, elegant works from the early 1960s by a pioneer of American abstraction. Mason (1904–1971) was a co-founder, in 1936, of American Abstract Artists, a still vital organization, so high-minded in its early years that Piet Mondrian joined when he came to the U.S. in 1940. Always dedicated to geometric abstraction, Mason explored multiple approaches to the discipline over the years, producing some of her strongest work in her last decade. Witness the confrontational Shutter Paintings at Washburn Gallery, with their angled vertical bars and cool palette of off-greys, tans, dull blues, tempered yellows, and flashes of orange and black, with hues varied and combined differently in each canvas. We follow the progression of colors across the surface, noting the changes that make the verticals shift and jostle. While the essential format remains the same, the differing chromatic relationships and the bars’ subtle shifts away from verticality give each painting an individual rhythm and mood. Mason was largely underrated and ignored for much of her working life, but things are changing. A major monograph was published last year, when Washburn mounted a virtual mini-retrospective, and auction prices, I’m told, have risen dramatically. That’s good news if you care about the history of modern art in America.

‘Labyrinth of Forms’: The Whitney Pays Homage to Women Abstractionists

Highbrow Magazine

Sandra Bertrand, February 14, 2022

Like any relationship, achieving harmony comes with its challenges. In the Whitney Museum’s exhibition, Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950, 26 artists, many who remain overlooked, met the challenge head-on – pushing the evolution of abstract art in this country into the public consciousness.

Twenty-six artists and 35 works, primarily drawn from the Whitney’s permanent collection, highlight the achievements of these artists, exploring ways in which works on paper, in particular, were vital ways to experiment with a new visual language. Often relegated to the sidelines of the Abstract Expressionism movement as it grew into prominence, these women were determined to play in the big boys’ sandbox in whatever form it took.

Labyrinth of Forms, a title drawn from an Alice Trumbull Mason work for this exhibition, refers to the various and innovative ways these experiments took. And Mason’s work is a good place to start. Descended from renowned history painter John Trumbull through her father, she traveled throughout Europe as a young woman, absorbing influences from Arshile Gorky’s work and support from Gertrude Stein. In late 1936, she was instrumental in founding the Association of Abstract Artists with one-fourth of its membership women.  

The actual title of her etching, Labyrinth of Closed Forms (1945), belies the free-floating spirit of shapes on display. They may be “closed” in their contour but they are free-wheeling in the composition.

Another show inclusion that reflects the same spirit is Lee Krasner’s Still Life (1938). The influence of Hans Hoffman, the renowned early teacher and modern artist, is undeniable. He stretched the importance of negative space. Colors swirl, speeding in all directions at once in this work. The same could be said about Untitled (1942), from Charmion von Wiegand, a less celebrated painter. It’s a riotously colorful playpen of shapes, a chaotic universe but a happy one nevertheless.

Some of the early abstractionists navigated a thin line between the recognizable and the non-objective. In Anne Ryan’s Figures in a Yellow Room (1946), one can’t help but be intrigued by the setup – abstraction morphing into an imagined reality or vice versa. Her title has provided the onlooker with a closed space and the suggested relationship between her geometric shapes. Is one figure with what appear to be feet turning away while another stands awkwardly frozen in space? The artist tempts the viewer to guess.

Puerto (1947), another woodcut by this artist, makes the task of finding a doorknob in the squares, rectangles and circles irrelevant. The work is a beautifully realized composition of muted sea greens and crimsons and black strokes that may or may not delineate her subject.

In Mina Citron’s Death of a Mirror (1946), one finds a mastery of black, gray. and white shapes fighting for dominance with patches of squiggling lines suggesting shattered glass.  

Some titles invariably challenge us to find the defining subject. Conversely, others challenge us if not to find credence in the words, to reject them altogether. Certainly, the Surrealists, even if figurative in approach, flung nonsensical titles every which way, defying a rational response.

A vital gathering place for printmaking was Atelier 17, the avant-garde studio that flourished in New York City between 1940 and 1955. It facilitated women artists’ exposure to modernist styles and a sisterhood of networking decades before the women’s art movement of the 1970s.

Two artists in the exhibit who benefited from their association with the Atelier were Norma Morgan, one of two Black women to show there, and Teresa D’Amico Fourporne. Morgan’s Turning Forms (1950) employed color engraving and aquatint.  Fourporne emigrated in 1941 from Brazil to study at the Art Students League. After joining Atelier 17, she created Braco e Negro(1945), a work made by using intaglio, a process in which lines and shapes are incised into metal plates  

Irene Rice Pereira was a Spanish emigrant whose works, such as Abstract Composition (1938), were based on pure form and not derived from the real world—in an effort to “create new forms to express the new age.” Inspired by theories of perception, psychology and physics, she interwove rectilinear shapes, suggesting a continuous movement within the picture plane. In 1953, Pereira became the first woman to have a retrospective at the Whitney Museum.

West Coast artists were hardly unaware of these new and revolutionary inventions in printmaking. Ray Kaiser from Sacramento is presented by an offset lithograph, Untitled (1937), which combines distorted figures in a boldly erotic work. Dorr Bothwell, a San Francisco native, was an early feminist and a world traveler. Her screenprint, Corsica (1950), invites the viewer to make visceral associations with the country in question.  The red is a vibrant yet muted choice, bordered by muted greens and blues with a school of fish that streak across the upper part of the canvas. A cross hatching of black lines seem to say “stay away” in this watery world of total abstraction.

The most prominent artist in the bunch is Louise Nevelson, a legendary sculptress born in Ukraine, but an American icon of originality. Here she is represented by a graphite sketch, Untitled (1935), that looks as if it was done offhandedly, an afterthought of automatic drawing. In one seemingly continuous loop, she suggests the form of a reclining woman.  

Even in this small exhibit for the Whitney, there are standout works of excellence. Most importantly, it shows that these early- to midcentury artists were determined to form a beautiful friendship with abstraction and make their mark on history.

Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950, runs through March 13, 2022.

Author Bio:

Sandra Bertrand is Highbrow Magazine’s chief art critic.

Alice Trumbull Mason: Shutter Paintings


Lisa Yin Zhang, January 22, 2022

Alice Trumbull Mason believed abstraction was the “true Realism”—figuration and depiction could never match its potential to get to the heart of things. In “Shutter Paintings,” on view at Washburn Gallery, 16 paintings give way to stunning permutations of feeling, atmosphere, light and color. Lines are orthogonal and skewed, angles obtuse and rhomboids thin as wafers. Rectangles recede—or are they perhaps only flat quadrilaterals? Slivers of color waver between shadow and white-blue sky and jut from the top and bottoms of canvases. These last are perhaps the truest illustration of a concept she termed “displacement,” which arises through the juxtaposition of various colors on a two-dimensional plane. They seem to push each other not out of but into place—indeed, Mason’s colors seem to hold themselves within the frame of the canvas. Evasive Square (1966) is aptly titled: over a scrum of vertical lines, ranging from peachy to black to lemon-yellow, is positioned a pale-blue square. Is it shadow or light or projection or aperture? One’s vision stumbles greedily over itself trying to resolve the image, recalling the moment, perhaps, between the blink of an eye or the click of a shutter.

Like one of her placed and displaced forms, Mason herself was a cornerstone in the art world of her time. So much of her work—from her drawings to her biomorphic Surrealist paintings to her semi-Cubist constructions—isn’t on view at Washburn Gallery. Rather, the works on view date from between 1960 and 1966, almost mirroring the lifespan of the legendary Green Gallery, where Mason was a lodestar alongside Donald Judd and Yayoi Kusama. The exhibition sheds light on a then-obscured and stigmatized aspect of life for her and her circle: Mason and Dick Bellamy, the director of Green Gallery, met at an alcohol rehabilitation center, where she convalesced after the presumed suicide of her son. A newly unearthed wealth of correspondences between Mason and luminaries such as Gertrude Stein, Josef Albers, Piet Mondrian and others established her fully within a circuit of mostly male Modernists and positioned her as powerful member of New York abstraction between the 1930s and ’60s. Without her, Ad Reinhardt once said, none of them would be there.

Three Exhibitions to See in New York This Weekend

The Art Newspaper

Benjamin Sutton & Gabriella Angeleti, January 14, 2022

From an artist couple’s colourful daring at the Museum of Arts and Design to the last chance to see Alexander Calder at the Museum of Modern Art

Alice Trumbull Mason: Shutter Paintings
Until 22 January at Washburn Gallery, 177 Tenth Avenue, Manhattan

More than five decades since the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a posthumous retrospective devoted to the late abstract painter and printmaker Alice Trumbull Mason, the artist’s work is being revisited in an exhibition that aims to recontextualize her as a pioneer of American abstraction, whose work was overshadowed by that of her male peers. The daughter of the Neoclassicist painter John Trumbull, known for his patriotic depictions of the American Revolution and its political figures, Mason was an early advocate for abstraction. Alongside Josef Albers, she co-founded the American Abstract Artists group in 1936 but, although well-connected in the art world, received little recognition. The “shutter paintings” on view, painted following the death of her son and heightened struggles with alcoholism, comprise vertical, rhythmic stripes of colour. Several pieces by the artist are also featured in a small exhibition at the Whitney titled Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950 (until 13 March)—a show named after a work by Mason that profiles abstract women artists whose contributions have been previously overlooked.

The 29 Art Exhibitions We Can’t Wait to See This Year


Dodie Kazanjian & Marley Marius, January 12, 2022

Alice Trumbull Mason at Washburn

Overlooked in the canon of art history, Mason was a leader in the boys’ club of abstract art in the New York art world during the 1930s to ’60s. Ad Reinhardt said in the early ’60s that “were it not for Alice Trumbull Mason, we [the abstract painters] would not be here, nor in such force.” Mason also stars in The Whitney’s all-women group show, “Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950,” on view through March. Through January 22.

The Late Abstractionist Alice Trumbull Mason & Her Unique Style


Barbara MacAdam, January 10, 2022

Captured in “Shutter Paintings” at Joan Washburn Gallery

In a notable revival, the life and career of the late dedicated abstractionist Alice Trumbull Mason has been guided into light through a focused exhibition of sixteen Shutter Paintings at Joan Washburn Gallery and a richly revealing book published by Rizzoli with clearly presented contributions by Mason’s daughter, the late painter Emily Mason, as well as by critics, scholars, and art historians.

Rendering abstract paintings into unexpected architectural wonders, Mason notably employed strong diagonals that appear to struggle to support adjacent structures. It would be difficult not to sense a corresponding sense of imbalance in her emotional status.

Her uncompromising style, refuting gestural Abstract Expressionism was quite unlike anybody else’s. Though her paintings evoke in many ways the clarity of geometric abstractionists, the color relations and elegant forms of the modernists, but more than anything, her Shutter Paintings are slyly active, featuring narrow apertures. The stripes appear to expand and contract, generating a sense of motion and even sexuality as triangles merge. Looking at Mason’s paintings of the 1960s, we note, above all, that everything is a little bit different from the other paintings being done, albeit clearly in communication with the modernist lingo.

Somehow today, the various lockdowns—and the desire and opportunity to uncover and recover lesser-known artists as well as the politics of feminism and the focus on equitable representation—have helped open the way for the new interest in Mason, who established her own distinct style, one that she called “displacement.” Not an Expressionist, not a Cubist, not a Geometric abstractionist nor a Constructivist (although clearly a bit of each), she conveys a sense of the familiar and at the same time something new in form, color, and perspective.

“Displacement,” she wrote, “should be understood in contradistinction to the idea of representing perspective on a two-dimensional plane. Displacement occurs through the juxtaposition of colors and through formal construction; that is, one form does not stand in front of another but displaces it with color and form.”

Her colors are subtly warm and slightly exceptional. Vertical stripes are not absolutely straight or of equal thickness. They bulge slightly, tilt unexpectedly, and converge into slivers of triangles. They don’t align.

The canvases in the Shutter Paintings series, all created between 1960 and 1966, are active, their narrow apertures expand and contract. An exemplary image is Magnitude of Memory from 1962, featuring off-shades of almost indescribable blue, orange, gold, and others, set amid black and white stripes that seem to push one another to the side. We can’t help trying to “read” this composition, where the colors are almost shorthand for words, ideas, and moods.

In fact, we learn from Mason’s letters to her husband, Warwood E. Mason, a merchant seaman, from whom she was often apart and left alone to manage her two children, that the couple would correspond by means of a color code assigned to express thoughts and feelings. An accomplished poet, Mason could indeed speak and write in colors.

Her life, too, was quietly colorful as the book reveals in its comprehensive chronology. During her husband’s sojourns, Mason developed a romantic relationship with the handsome abstract sculptor Ibram Lassaw and befriended noted painters Ilya Bolotowky and Esphyr Slobodkina, strong supporters of the abstract movement. They even picketed MoMA in 1940, complaining about the exclusion of American artists in the show Art of Our Time.

There are letters from Josef Albers, from Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams praising her poems, a cartoon from Ray Johnson, a letter from Mondrian accepting an invitation to lecture to the American Abstract Artists group which she co-founded with Josef Albers in 1936.

Surprisingly invisible today, she was the subject of a Whitney Museum retrospective in 1973 and headlines a Whitney show today, titled Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950, on view through March 13. Above all, she partook of the social, artistic, and literary intellectual life of the twentieth century. She delved into many new modes of art, including printmaking and painting in many genres. She read and hobnobbed with the avant-garde of her time, including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Ad Reinhardt.

Hers was a rich, colorful, and refined background for an artist, but also a complicated and troubled one. A descendant of famed Connecticut portrait painter John Trumbull; mother of Emily, a painter who was married to the late painter Wolf Kahn; and mother of Jon Trumbull, a sailor who drowned in 1958 by accident or suicide. Mason herself, deeply depressed, began drinking excessively and had herself committed to Towns Hospital, a rehab institution where she met fellow patient and avant-garde art dealer Dick Bellamy, whose girlfriend brought an iguana to the hospital, leading patients to freak out or be amused. That was fun. Finally, in 1971, Mason died at home from complications of alcoholism.

This is a splendidly orchestrated revival, with the concentrated exhibition at Washburn of sixteen paintings in Mason’s most representative style interacting in one room, and works from earlier periods in a back gallery, showing a glimpse of her evolution and expertise through the mainstays of twentieth century abstraction, with biomorphic style prints and a canvas featuring a Hans Hofmann-like white square that obliterates lively colored activity behind it, drawing us in and obstructing our access. Throughout the show, we can see the bones of twentieth century abstract painting subtly lodged even in her flat columns.

Then, there’s, of course, Matisse, in the forms and color, and Braque in the Synthetic Cubist spirit. “I think Braque I like better than Picasso,” Mason revealed tellingly in an interview with art historian Ruth Gurin in an interview in the Archives of American Art. “I think he was more of a dedicated artist. Picasso is too much of a showman.”

The architectural compositions contrast with modernist geometric ones and with her own biomorphic compositions so redolent of Arshile Gorky and Miro. In fact, besides studying with Gorky at the Grand Central School of Art in New York (she said that “He really opened my eyes to abstract painting,” even though “he himself wasn’t strongly abstract at that time”), she also joined the legendary Atelier 17, Stanley William Hayter’s print-making studio.

Mason told Gurin, who noted that there seem to be two different kinds of abstract paintings being made by the American Abstract Artists group, “Yes, there is what I call architectural abstract art, which I like to do, and expressionist abstract art, which my daughter likes to do.”

Mason knew and understood her own place in the complex terrain of abstract art and thinking.

Dash of Earth, Flash of Sky: Alice Trumbull Mason at Washburn Gallery


Jackson Arn, January 7, 2022

“Like ordinary everyday experience, except about two inches off the ground”—that’s the Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki explaining what enlightenment feels like, but he might as well be talking about the late style of Alice Trumbull Mason, the subject of a quietly superb exhibition at Washburn Gallery. Nothing she paints is all that bold or new—yellow triangle here, thin white rectangle there—but each shape is ever so slightly intensified by a mystical rightness of color and balance. Some of the time, the effect is faint enough to miss entirely, and even when you notice, it’s easy to get frustrated with Mason for not floating up to showier heights. But isn’t it enough that she’s floating at all?

For decades, gallerists’ answer was, more or less, “no.” Mason didn’t have a solo show in New York until she was almost 40, and at the time of her death in 1971 she was a pretty minor figure, well-connected but hardly well-known (a 1973 Whitney retrospective changed this somewhat, but not much). Even today, the art world has struggled to give Mason her due, since her style is neither passionately gestural (i.e., easy to interpret psychologically and thus biographically) nor big and boastful (i.e., easy to sell to rich idiots). The resurgence of interest in neglected female artists has worked wonders for epic abstractionists like Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell—deservedly so—but it’s also inspired too many rushed, muddled surveys like “Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930–1950,” currently on view at the Whitney, in which Mason and twenty-six others push and shove for attention while, two floors above, Jasper Johns gets wall after graceless wall to himself.

Mason deserves better. She’s not a push-and-shove kind of artist, but given a room of her own she’s as riveting as any of her better-known peers. The paintings at Washburn consist almost entirely of bright, tapered vertical stripes, with the odd earth-tone diagonal thrown in for variety’s sake (the compositions are so consistent that any difference at all, even a horizontal line, feels like an O. Henry twist). Mason has a way of topping a hot, acidic color with an even hotter, more acidic color—before her paintings achieve any of their subtler effects, they have to burn. As your eyes adjust to the glow, though, colors start to ripen and shapes start to rhyme: the banana-yellow diamonds in White Parenthesis (1965), for example, recall the peach one in Bearings (same year), so that each painting seems like a mirror of the other’s secret depths. Flatness seems more and more illusory. Every splinter of blue suggests a flash of sky—I’m reminded of the way T. J. Clark described Paul Klee’s mature work: “The surface came to look as if it were a kind of transparency ‘really’ hung across a glimpsed infinity.”

Are these “minor” works? They’re modestly sized, it’s true, and though they were painted at a time when Mason was still mourning her son’s sudden death, none wears its heart on its sleeve. But a tiny window to a glimpsed infinity is still a window to infinity, and not all placid pictures are passionless. Mason gestures at infinity more than she confronts it head-on, but it’s there, all the same, in the columns of color tirelessly pushing out beyond the frame, the style too briskly confident to bother with showing off. The exhibition is called “Shutter Paintings”—an apt, lovely title, though “I Contain Multitudes” would have worked too.

Alice Trumbull Mason, Alone and With Friends


Roberta Smith, January 6, 2022

A poignant gallery show of the artist’s “Shutter Paintings” is paired with an exceptional Whitney exhibition of the forward-looking prints that she and her contemporaries made in days gone by.

One of the many new frontiers in art history today is abstract art by women. It’s not possible to say for sure, but I suspect we barely know what we don’t know. This thought has hit me often in the last few years, usually in big, jolting museum exhibitions.

But right now, that jolt reverberates in two small overlapping shows. The Whitney Museum’s “Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950” is shining light on prints and drawings in a little seen but carefully tended corner of the permanent collection. Prominent among them are three outstanding prints by the American abstractionist Alice Trumbull Mason (1904-1971). Her presence is underscored by six prints by Mason’s contemporaries given in 1977 to the museum in her honor by her daughter and son-in-law, the painters Emily Mason and Wolf Kahn.

Meanwhile, in nearby Chelsea, Washburn Gallery has mounted “Alice Trumbull Mason: Shutter Paintings,” a series of 15 vertically divided canvases that Mason painted from 1960 to 1966, after the death of her beloved son sent her into a spiral of grief and intermittent drinking that shortened her life. Each show has an intensity and emotional resonance that invites close, careful looking.

There are no slackers among the 33 works at the Whitney. They have been carefully selected and installed by Sarah Humphreville, a senior curatorial assistant who has written an interesting online essay. Her thesis is that American abstraction had some of its roots in Surrealist-inclined graphic works made by women during the 1930s and ’40s who were mostly overshadowed by the critical and market triumph of Abstract Expressionism starting around 1950, and consequently often forgotten. You’ll find the unfamiliar names to prove it: Dorr Bothwell (“Corsica,” a dark, brooding silk screen from 1950), Agnes Lyall (an untitled 1937 lithograph of a nearly single line that quietly morphs into a tilted fusion of chair, table, doorway and scraggly plant) and Sue Fuller (“Lancelot and Guinevere,” a dense, suggestive soft-ground etching with stencil and embossing in red, black and white from 1944).

But whether you know the artist or not, nearly everything comes as a refreshing surprise: be it a prescient 1938 oil-on-paper of scattered shards of color by Lee Krasner; an untitled fusion of flesh and machine as voluptuous abstraction in an exquisite graphite drawing by Elaine de Kooning from around 1947; and from around 1942 a fabulous collage of bright colors and patterns centering, possibly, on a red demon by Charmion von Wiegand, who usually favored grids. Some of these women stopped working or slowed down because of needy or unhelpful artist-mates, but here their confidence, optimism and talent are electric.

At Washburn, Mason’s Shutter Paintings reflect her love of geometry, surface and color, treated as usual with an affecting tenderness. The configurations here are even more emotional: thin, greatly elongated and irregular vertical stripes of color — in an array of sharp yellows, soft grays and sudden brown and blacks. Rarely at rest, the stripes taper and expand, intruding upon and changing their neighbors, setting off rhythmic pressures horizontally.

It takes a minute to see that the most active stripes are actually attenuated diamonds and triangles, whose sharp, sometimes vanishing tips ignite seeming flashes of light or dark. There’s a kind of pain underlying some of these pictures. They differ from the carefree geometries of much 1960s abstraction the same way the emotionally charged clumsiness of the Early Renaissance contrasted with the perspectival ebullience of the High.

Extended over greater distances than usual, Mason’s edges all wobble noticeably, which adds to the air of instability and fragility, intimating the effects of aging and drinking perhaps but also grief about the tenuous miracle of life. It was something of which she was by then painfully aware. The Shutter Paintings may also be Mason’s reaction to the 1960s — at once for and against — and one more aspect of her greatness.

Alice Trumbull Mason: Shutter Paintings

Through Jan. 22, Washburn Gallery, 177 10th Avenue, Manhattan, (212) 397-6780;

Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950

Through March 13, Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan, (212) 570-3600;

The Critic’s Notebook: On Seneca, Alice Trumbull Mason, Bach & more from the world of culture


James Panero, December 14, 2021

Alice Trumbull Mason: Pioneer of American Abstraction (Rizzoli Electa) and “Alice Trumbull Mason: Shutter Paintings,” at Washburn Gallery, New York (through January 15): Alice Trumbull Mason (1904–71) is an artist deserving of reevaluation. A new monograph published by Rizzoli, and an exhibition now on view at Washburn Gallery, should help in that rediscovery. A descendant of John Trumbull, “The Painter of the Revolution,” Alice lived and painted at the center of the modernist revolution in American art. An accomplished young portraitist working in an Ashcan style, she became in the 1930s a “pioneer of American abstraction,” as the recent monograph edited by Elisa Wouk Almino ably attests. Marilyn R. Brown, Will Heinrich, Meghan Forbes, Thomas Micchelli, and Christina Weyl, along with Almino, all contribute essays to this handsome volume, which includes a foreword by Emily Mason, Alice’s painter-daughter who died in 2019. Alice Mason’s experimental style ranged widely across forms of expression, from biomorphic curves to hard-edged patterns. An exhibition now on view at the venerable Washburn Gallery, which represents Mason’s estate, looks to her late “shutter paintings,” with prismatic stripes that conceal as much as they reveal.

Shutter Paintings | Alice Trumbull Mason’s Artworks Revived Today


Sam Franzini, December 2021

Nearly 50 years after her Whitney Museum retrospective, the Alice Trumbull Mason Foundation has announced a new exhibition of the late abstract artist’s paintings from the early 1960s. After co-founding the American Abstract Artists group, she instigated a picket protest at the Museum of Modern Art for not displaying any American abstract artists. Years later, her own work would be shown, and ultimately acquired there. Mason’s gender prohibited her from getting the proper recognition in her day, but the new art installation shows her work can stand the test of time.

Flaunt spoke with Steven Rose, the director of the Mason foundation about the new exhibition.

Why the name Shutter Paintings? 

“Shutter Paintings” is a phrase pulled from the essay on Mason’s paintings by author Will Heinrich published in Alice Trumbull Mason: Pioneer of Abstraction (Rizzoli 2020). In his essay, Heinrich describes this period where color “slammed across her canvases like steel shutters.” He elaborates that with paintings like Ionic Magnitude (1960), Mason paints to the surface of the canvas, providing the viewer no point of entry, no depth of field. He felt that this was a  powerful development in her abstraction and a noticeable shift to address the “aesthetic problems that interested her.”  

In what ways has Mason’s work been recontextualized in 2021? Any permanence of key themes?  

Mason is one of many incredible artists who were passed over during their time in part due to who they were, as opposed to how they painted. Fortunately for us, despite this, Mason has been the subject of a few recent re-contextualizations, including being a central figure in a  show currently at the Whitney Museum of American Art called Labyrinth of Forms: Women and  Abstraction, 1930–1950, curated by Sarah Humphreville. Like many of her contemporary female abstract artists, Mason was instrumental in defining American Abstraction and is finally receiving a fresh look to this end.  

These works in Shutter Paintings show are a perfect continuation of the themes in the Whitney show, as they are a period that has gone fairly unexamined, overshadowed by Mason’s biographical struggles with depression and alcohol during this period. With recent research,  including an incredible essay written on the period by Dr. Barbara Stehle, we now see a Mason who was extremely active and engaged in the conversations surrounding abstraction at the  time. Not only was she adding to the fevered dialogue of the era, she was actively being  recognized and promoted by well-known purveyors of avant garde art, including gallerist Dick  Bellamy, who she met and bonded with during a stint in a drying out clinic on the Upper West  side.

How was the curation process for this exhibition? 

The curation process was done in conjunction with Joan and Brian Washburn. Joan has represented Mason for the better part of five decades, which is a story and an achievement in  itself! We were fortunate to have a good number of excellent canvases to choose from and agreed to find a formal focus to limit our selection. In the end, with some added input from Dr. Stehle, we landed on the using mostly vertical paintings of this period, finding that this would  be most powerful in the gallery space and allow the viewer to really focus on Mason’s refined shifts of composition and use of color and paint within a finite set.  

Was the time frame of only displaying paintings from 1960-1966 a deliberate move? If so,  what about this era stood out to you?  

In a word – yes. There have been a few remarks on these vertical “shutter” paintings over the years, most notably by the NYT’s Roberta Smith last year. We concurred and felt it was past  time to do a focused show just on these pieces. What was important to us is that we had the time to properly examine the period in its art historical context, i.e. minimalism being a  growing force in American abstraction, so that this period would not be oversimplified to the  biographical events of Mason’s life. This body of work represents an extremely powerful and  cohesive statement within Mason’s overall oeuvre. We felt it deserved more examination.

How would you categorize Alice Trumbull Mason’s contributions to the American  Abstraction movement?  

In terms of historical painting styles, it is hard to categorize Mason’s brand of abstract painter – I’ll leave this to art historians. We know she eschewed abstract expressionism. She also coined plenty of terms herself including ‘biomorphic abstraction’ and ‘architonic abstraction’ through her many writings and statements.  

What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?  

I hope people who paint or make things will see this show and be inspired to paint and make  things. I hope people who enjoy paintings but never heard of Mason will add her to their lexicon. I hope that people who know art and know Mason will learn even more and be inspired to advocate for Mason and promote her work to a new deserved level.