Gertrude Greene

Throughout the 1930s, Greene’s art progressed almost systematically toward geometrical purity.
By 1935, the year the Museum of Modern Art presented excellent examples of work by Malevich, El Lissitzky, Rodchenko, Tatlin, and Pevsner in an exhibition entitled Cubism and Abstract Art, she herself had begun making constructions. Initially indicative of her appreciation for Jean Arp’s work, Greene’s constructions over the next two years moved between biomorphic and geometric abstraction. Increasingly, however, she began merging the two types of forms—one associated with Surrealism, the other with Constructivism—and after about 1940, a simple, geometric approach akin to Neo-plasticism and Constructivism predominated. As studies for these works, she began making paper collages that explored the merging of biomorphic and geometric form and experimented with layering as a spatial device.(2)

In her last constructions, such as Construction 1946, Greene began adding gestural areas of color. Although among her strongest and most original accomplishments, she put aside her relief constructions in favor of painting. Initially geometric, her paintings by the early 1950s became increasingly expressionistic. Her solo exhibitions, in 1951 and 1955, the first of her career, included only the late, gestural canvases. In 1937, when the American Abstract Artists was formed, Greene was its first paid employee. She tended the desk at the Squibb Gallery exhibition in 1937, passing out questionnaires and answering the queries and jibes about the art that was featured in the first annual show. Her own work was also shown that year in the opening exhibition of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting.

Although she resigned her membership in the American Abstract Artists in 1942, only five years after the first exhibition, Greene did so in the belief that the group’s mission had been largely accomplished. She had figured prominently in the group’s programs and in promoting the purist point of view in arguments over the role of nature versus geometric purity in abstract art.

1. For additional biographical information, see Lynda Hyman, Gertrude Greene: Constructions, Collages, Paintings (NewYork: ACA Galleries, 1981).
2. Jacqueline Moss, “Gertrude Greene: Constructions of the 1930s and 1940s” Arts Magazine 55, no. 8 (April 1981): 123, reports that Greene destroyed many of her collages.

Virginia M. Mecklenburg The Patricia and Phillip Frost Collection: American Abstraction 1930–1945 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1989)

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