Three Artists (Three Women)

In THREE ARTISTS (THREE WOMEN): MODERNISM AND THE ART OF HESSE, KRASNER, AND O’KEEFE, her well conceived and brilliantly executed study, Anne Middleton Wagner juxtaposes three modernist artist who shared several salient characteristics. Chief among these is that each was a woman, each trained in art school. Wagner’s study brings a feminist perspective, within the context of modernism, to her consideration of these artists.

Georgia O’Keefe, Lee Krasner, and Eva Hesse all received critical acclaim during their lifetimes and each has continued to be artistically esteemed since her death. Another commonality is that each was married to a celebrated male artist—O’Keefe to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, Krasner to abstract modernist Jackson Pollock, and Hesse to sculptor Tom Doyle. Each woman was childless. Each carved out an artistic career for herself neither as someone’s wife nor as a female artist but as a modernist in her own right.

Wagner has elected to examine her subjects through a carefully selected group of representative examples of their works rather than to paint with the broad brush that might have obscured the salient focus of her study. None of the three artists she considers was directly concerned with feminism. They thought of themselves as artist rather than as female artists, a qualification they considered demeaning.

Wagner successfully portrays the artistic relationship between her three subjects and their artist husbands. She captures well the dynamics of the symbiosis from which both parties in each marriage profited artistically. The creative tensions that each marriage involved were essential concomitants of the work that all six artists produced.

This book, both exciting and profound, has splendid illustrations, a number of them in color, that serve well to amplify the basic themes the author presents. THREE ARTISTS (THREE WOMEN) is a unique contribution both to art history and to feminist criticism.