1 Mixed Media in Collection
Gertrude Glass Greene
GREENE, GERTRUDE GLASS
(1904-1956) United States
Works in Public Collections
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., Whitney Museum of American Art, NY:
MOMA, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Berkshire Museum, MA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Labyrinth of Forms: Women and Abstraction, 1930-1950, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2021
Gertrude Greene: Constructions, Collages, Paintings, 1981, ACA Gallery, NY (exhibition catalog)
Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America, 1927-1944, Museum of Art at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, 1983
Early American Abstraction, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, NY, 2002
Born 1904 Brooklyn, NY
Died 1956 New York, NY
Gertrude Greene pioneered the development of geometric abstraction in America; her sculptures and paintings extending the purist ideals of European modernists. An activist who was crucial to advancing ideas about the importance of non-objective art, Greene worked to support artists and artistic freedom. She is recognized as one of the first Americans to make abstract sculptures, her constructed wood reliefs advanced avant-garde concepts around Suprematism, Neo-Plasticism and Constructivism.
Parent’s owned a department store in Brooklyn. After high school she studied sculpture at the Leonardo da Vinci School in NY in between 1924 and 1926 which was her only formal training as an artist. The da Vinci school was a traditional art school the students studied life drawing.
While she attended da Vinci school at night, her days were spent as a kindergarten teacher. She frequently took her students to Brooklyn Museum to draw the paintings and sculptures.
She met and married Balcomb Greene in 1926. After marrying they move to Vienna so he could continue his studies in Psychology. In 1928 they returned to the US so he could teach at Dartmouth. While Greene had a studio in Hanover she preferred to live in New York. After three years of teaching the couple traveled to Paris in 1931 where they met members of the Abstraction-Creation group and were exposed to Cubism, Surrealism and Constructivism. The simple geometry of Constructivism was of particular appeal to Greene as was their idea that pure, abstract art had the power to reorder and elevate society. Piet Mondrian, Jean Arp and Russian Constructivists Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner were among those whose work inspired her. She did a series of Constructivist drawings and returning to New York her art became more and more geometric.
When they returned to the United States, Greene became involved in a number of political causes that advocated for artists. In 1933 she helped establish the Unemployed Artists Group that lobbied for federal support for unemployed painters and sculptors and paved the way for the Works Progress Administration (WPA). She was also a founding member of the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, the Sculptors Guild and the Artists' Union. Greene and her husband both worked to gain acceptance of abstract art by picketing museums that did not feature works of abstract artists. This cause led them to work with a small group of like-minded artists to found American Abstract Artists. Greene was the group’s first employee, helping organize their first exhibition in 1937, minding the gallery and answering questions about the art, a challenging task as realism was the accepted style of the day and the audience was often hostile to the new abstraction.
In 1935 MOMA mounted Cubism and Abstract Art which included work by Kasimir Malevich, Rodchenko, Tatlin and Pevsner. About this same moment Greene began to create her wood reliefs, sculptures that were built from cut out shapes that were often painted. The works moved between biomorphic and geometric abstraction. In 1937 Albert Gallatin purchased a sculpture for his Museum of Living Art. This was a boost to Greene as it was the first time her work would be part of a public collection. In 1939 artist Hilla Rebay, who was also Solomon Guggenheim’s art advisor, opened the Museum of Non-Objective Painting and began exhibiting Europeans and Americans who were working in an abstract style. Gertrude Greene and Irene Rice Pereira were the artists presented in the first exhibition in 1940. The museum would become the Solomon R. Guggenheim in June of 1939.
In addition to sculpture Greene made many paper collages like 1938-03 that is in the Wolfson Collection. Cutting out organic and geometric shapes from paper and cardboard she layered forms on top of one another combining both rigid shapes with more biomorphic forms. Bright primary colors are often inserted in fields of neutral or black.
In 1942 the Greenes divided their time between their New York home on Long Island and Pittsburgh where Balcomb had taken a position teaching at the Carnegie Institute. At this time Greene was working out of two studios and the lack of tools resulted in pieces that had a simpler geometry and less relief. She also was using her collages as studies for her wood constructions.
She continued to make collages and abstract sculptures up until 1946. Some of these later sculptures foreshadowed the move to painting as they included gestural marks of painted color. Eventually Greene moved exclusively to painting. Greene created paintings using a palette knife. Initially geometric in form the paintings became less formal and much more expressionistic and were celebrated by critics for their textured surfaces and sensuous color.
Interestingly her first solo exhibition at Grace Borgenicht Gallery in 1951 did not include any of her sculptural work. Today she is widely recognized as a pioneer in American abstraction. Her wooden relief sculptures and collages are included in numerous important public collections.