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 Hedda Lindenberg Sterne  (1910 - 2011)

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Lived/Active: New York / France      Known for: surreal, figure and landscape painting, monotype

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Ad Code: 3
Hedda Lindenberg Sterne
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

"Hedda Sterne, an Artist of Many Styles, Dies at 100"

Hedda Sterne, an artist whose association with the Abstract Expressionists became fixed forever when she appeared prominently in a now-famous 1951 Life magazine photograph of the movement’s leading lights, died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 100.

Her death was announced by Clara Diament Sujo, the director of CDS Gallery in Manhattan.

Ms. Sterne, who was the last surviving artist from the Life photograph, shared few of the stylistic or philosophical concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, nor did she cast herself in the heroic mold favored by many artists in the movement.

She did, however, join with 17 prominent Abstract Expressionists and other avant-gardists in signing a notorious open letter to the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950 accusing it of hostility to “advanced art.”

The letter, with signatures from the likes of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, caused a stir. The artists were dubbed the Irascible 18 by Emily Genauer, the chief art critic of The New York Herald Tribune, and 15 of them were gathered by Life magazine for a group portrait by the photographer Nina Leen. Ms. Sterne, who arrived late, was positioned on a table in the back row, where, she later said, she stood out “like a feather on top.”

Although the photograph achieved mythic status, and some of its subjects scaled the heights of fame, Ms. Sterne retreated to the margins of art history. She spent the next half-century working steadily at her art and exhibiting frequently, but she never developed a marketable artistic signature. Her frequent stylistic changes, reflecting an exploratory bent, made her an elusive figure.

“Hedda was always searching, never satisfied,” Betty Parsons, her longtime dealer, once said. “She had many ways; most artists just have one way to go."

Hedwig Lindenberg was born on Aug. 4, 1910, in Bucharest, Romania. After graduating from secondary school she took art classes at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and studied art history and philosophy for a year at the University of Bucharest before dropping out to become a    full-time artist.

In 1932 she married Fritz Stern, from whom she soon separated, retaining his last name but adding an “e.”

Encouraged by the Romanian surrealist Victor Brauner, a family friend, she exhibited several Surrealist collages in a group show organized by Hans Arp in Paris in 1938. There she met Peggy Guggenheim, who included one of her works at a show at her London gallery the following year.

In 1941, Ms. Sterne narrowly escaped a roundup and massacre of Jews at her apartment building and fled Bucharest for New York, where she immediately fell in with the artistic avant-garde. Her work was included in “First Papers of Surrealism,” the pioneering exhibition of Surrealist art organized by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp in 1942, although she later confessed that she had absolutely no interest in the radical politics espoused by most members of the movement.

She exhibited at Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of This Century, and was soon given a solo show by Betty Parsons at the Wakefield Gallery in 1943. Through Parsons she became friends with many of the Abstract Expressionists and met the artist and cartoonist Saul Steinberg, a fellow Romanian, whom she married in 1944.

While visiting Vermont with Mr. Steinberg, from whom she separated in 1960 and who died in 1999, she became fascinated by farm machinery and began producing mechanical images with human overtones that she called “anthropographs.” These were followed by canvases, some of them spray-painted, inspired by the roads, bridges and skyscrapers of Manhattan.

She later arranged horizontal bands of subdued color on vertical canvases she called “vertical-horizontals,” which, in characteristic fashion, she denied were abstract. For a time, in the 1960s, she made ink drawings of organic forms and splayed heads of lettuce. She sometimes referred to herself as a diarist, a role that became explicit when, in the mid-1970s, she began putting diary entries directly onto canvases sectioned into checkerboard-like grids.

Ms. Sterne, who leaves no immediate survivors, executed portraits of friends and colleagues throughout her career. In 1970 she gathered dozens of her head portraits in an installation work, “Hedda Sterne Shows Everyone,” at the Betty Parsons Gallery.

She was given retrospective exhibitions at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey in 1977 and at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in 2006.

By William Grimes Published: April 11, 2011

Source: The New York Times April 12, 2011 -

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Hedda Sterne is one of the many European artists dislocated by the Second World War who found refuge in the United States. Born in Bucharest, Romania in 1916 as Hedda Lindenberg to a highly curtured family, she was unusually gifted in languages as a child. She studied philosophy and art history at Bucharest University from 1932 to 1934, though she did not get her degree. Sterne, however, did study art in Vienna and Paris, where she became part of the group of Surrealists, exhibiting while quite young in the Paris Salon of Surrealist Independants in 1938. She was especially influenced by Victor Brauner, a Rumanian artist she had known in Bucharest as well as Paris.

The early to mid-40s were important to Sterne both on a personal and artistic basis. She emigrated to the United States in 1941, became an American citizen, and divorced her first husband, Ben Sterne in 1944, whom she had married in 1938, and married cartoonist Saul Steinberg from whom she separated in the 1960s.

Because of the Surrealist inclinations of Sterne and Peggy Guggenheim, Sterne had shown work at Guggenheim's Art of This Century Gallery in 1941. Sterne's long-time-dealer-to-be, Betty Parsons, saw her work there and gave Sterne a show in 1943.

In 1950, "Life" magazine featured Sterne as a "promising young American painter" (Rubinstein 276) and in 1951 was featured in the same magazine with her husband in an article titlted "Steinberg and Sterne". The subject matter of Sterne's paintings was essentially machine-based during the 40s and 50s, whether Surrealist or more abstract in style. Some of her works depicted hurtling trains, derricks, and bridges as though they were looming monsters. She also did semi-abstract cityscapes, and increasingly non-objective paintings with horizontal bands and stripes of color..

Though Sterne was associated with the painters who would become famous as first generation Abstract-Expressionists (Pollock, De Kooning, et al), and appeared with them as the only woman in the 1950 photograph by Nina Lean of those then known as "The Irrascibles," she never painted in an Abstract-Expressionist style.

In 1973, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Venice.

Exhibitions include retrospectives at the Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, in 1977 and Queens Museum, New York, in 1985.

Jules and Nancy Heller, "North American Women Artists of the 20th Century"
Charlotte Rubinstein, "American Women Artists"

Biography from Levis Fine Art:
Hedda Sterne was the only female member of the small, rebel mid-century group of 28 artists known as the “Irascibles”, which included Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Clyford Still and Theodoros Stamos.  They challenged the Metropolitan Museum of Art by protesting a juried exhibition intended to increase the museum's collection of contemporary art.  In 1950, these artists banded together and signed a petition accusing the curator and director of loading the jury with critics hostile to "advanced art," particularly Abstract Expressionism.  Such would be a great catalyst for the movement, drawing significant press coverage and public awareness.

Hedda Sterne is known for her divergence from using mediums and forms contemporaneous with the times.  She was one of the first to experiment with acrylic spray paint and also the return of the tondo shape to the art market.  The year 1941, was a landmark year for Sterne as her move to New York was overshadowed by her inclusion in the Art of This Century exhibition, funded by the Guggenheim.  It was here where notable dealer Betty Parsons discovered Sterne’s work and gave her a solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1943 and it was for this exhibition that Sterne first presented her use of circular canvases to create the Tondo Series.  These tondos are mounted on a central axis so the viewer can turn them at will to gain varying perspectives. A pioneer in her use of both medium and form, Sterne used the tondo throughout the balance of her career.

The theme of Sterne’s works during the 1940’s and 1950’s was essentially machine-based, influenced by her early studies in France with Surrealism and abstraction.  Some of her early works, including the New York Series from the 1950’s, depicted “hurtling trains, derricks, and bridges as though they were looming monsters”.  It was a highly successful endeavor by the artist to portray the pace and power of the big city.  Sterne’s use of acrylic spray paint allowed her to echo speed and motion while also discovering that illusion of depth could be achieved without the use of traditional laws of perspective.  It was also during this time period that she became associated with the New York School, and as a result began using more primary colors.

Sterne’s work is represented in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Whitney, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

© 2008 Levis Fine Art, Inc.

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