Early American Abstractions
Gertrude Greene was a pioneering artist, active in New York from the mid-1930s until her death in 1956. Along with her husband, writer and painter Balcomb Greene, Gertrude was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists—a group most famous for staging a protest outside the MoMA in 1935 over the museum's collecting practices, which they argued favored European artists over American.
While an outspoken leftist, Greene's art did not take such a stance and was instead inspired by the marriage of progressive thought and visual rigor practiced by artists such as Jean Arp, Naum Gabo and Piet Mondrian, whose work she saw in the early 1930s while in Paris. Greene is often credited as one of the first American artists to create painted abstract wood reliefs. Made just a few years after Jean Arp's Constellations, Greene's reliefs are complex, less organic and more angular than Arp's, with earthy hues grounding the anxious shapes—a clamor of moving parts, taut dances and stannic puzzles.
A fantastic 1935 early assemblage by Greene is held in the collection of the MoMA and was recently featured in contemporary painter Amy Sillman's "Artist's Choice" exhibition, The Shape of Shape. Sillman's notes on the prominence of shape in the museum's collection aptly apply to Greene's collages and reliefs: "Often eccentric, poetic or intimate, these works are like bodies that speak, operating at the hub of language and matter, signs and sensations."
"Often eccentric, poetic or intimate, these works are like bodies that speak, operating at the hub of language and matter, signs and sensations."
Greene made paper collages as spatial and color studies for her larger sculptures, which she ceased creating in 1946. Beginning around 1950, her output was largely abstract expressionist paintings, where she explored the limits of painterliness within strict geometric constructions.
An exemplary work from this later period is in the collection of The Brooklyn Museum. Greene had her only solo exhibitions in 1951 and 1955, both of which focused on her later paintings, and she passed away the following year; her collages and reliefs especially, prefigure the importance of assemblage in American art in the 1950s and 1960s.