Victoria Miro presents the first UK solo exhibition of works by Hedda Sterne (1910–2011).
An active member of the New York School, Hedda Sterne, who was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1910 and fled to the US in 1941, created an extensive body of work that intersected with some of the most important movements and figures of the twentieth century. A bridge between European Modernism, in particular Surrealism, and American Abstract Expressionism, Sterne’s work stands as a testament to her independence of thought, moving freely between figuration and abstraction throughout her career. Her work has enjoyed increased critical visibility in recent years, featuring in major exhibitions such as Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, held at MoMA in 2017, and the ongoing display Epic Abstraction at The Met Fifth Avenue. Paintings by Sterne were included in Surface Work at Victoria Miro in 2018, which celebrated a century of abstract painting by women. Sterne’s 1954 painting New York VIII is featured in MoMA’s reinstallation of its permanent collection.
Laura Cumming reviews Hedda Sterne
Hedda Sterne (1910-2011) is a magnificent heroine of art. She died in New York at the age of 100, almost entirely blind, but still drawing “behind my eyes”. In an eight-decade career, Sterne refused to cleave to any single style – no logo, as she drily remarked – unlike the abstract expressionists, with whom she was and remains too closely associated. She ran all the way from self-portraiture to cityscape, still life and collage. Her last exhibition, at 94, was a series of figurative portraits.
But it was her appearance in a famous Life magazine photograph in 1951 that restricted Sterne’s reputation. She stands at the back, in a hat, the lone woman among the group of New York School painters, including Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning, who had signed a letter of protest against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s failure to include abstraction in its shows of American art.
The means appear limited – just swathes on coarse canvas – but the effects are magical, as if light itself were breaking inside these works of art.