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115 Years: They’re Baaack!

Ruth Asawa in her studio in 1957.


In recent years, dealers and curators have been plumbing art history and shedding new light on underappreciated artists. ARTnews had some of the first words on artists who are currently enjoying revivals.

Ruth Asawa (1926–2013)

Ruth Asawa, though previously seen at [Peridot gallery] in group shows, is a San Francisco artist who is accorded her first New York one man show. Her filigree sculptures, woven of brass, enameled copper and black and white iron and wire, are the kind of objets-d’art abstrait that eventually may take on a vital spiritual life indispensable to the environments they inhabit.
—Parker Tyler, December 1954


Jack Whitten (B. 1939)

Jack Whitten is a painter—a rarity among young artists being exhibited today. The intimacy of the hand which leaves its imprint and the glyphs and gestures of a spontaneous approach reveal his enthusiasm for painting. A certain exuberance carries through—through the abstract landscapes which start from a matrix of simple shapes and explode out into instantaneous fragments, through the studies of the nude and other experiments.
—Natalie Edgar, February 1969


Melvin Edwards (B. 1937)

Remarkably, Edwards is able to infuse the struggle of African Americans with universal meaning. “Nobody gets away from identity, but it’s not always declared,” he wrote recently. “Identity is the basis from which all art begins.”
—Gail Gregg, February 1995


Lygia Clark (1920–1988)

The do-it-yourself aspect of her work, which is allied to the notion that everyone is an artist, leaves something to be desired, and that something is commitment.
—James H. Beck, March 1963


Alma Thomas, Apollo 12 “Splash Down”,1970.


Alma Thomas (1891–1978)

Inspired by such events as the flight of Apollo 12, she creates a forceful mosaic effect with her placement of wide brushstrokes in highly saturated colors. Circles within circles, horizontal and vertical streaks and stripes pulsate with an air of celebration.
—Phyllis Derfner, Summer 1972


Joan Semmel (B. 1932)

Semmel has found a format that allows constant artistic growth . . . Though her paintings still shock, it’s the shock of real intimacy and of exposure to a trembling vulnerability, awakening reserves of emotions beyond simple vision.
—Charlotte Moser, December 1977


Betye Saar (B. 1926)

Saar roots the subjects of her boxes in a particular black and/or female milieu. [Joseph] Cornell distances us from his subjects; Saar’s work is more tactile and invites a more immediate form of contact, in part because the time referred to is the immediate American past. . . . They seem to resemble jewelry boxes found on a dressing table which, when opened, present memories of another space and time.
—Ann-Sargent Wooster, October 1976


Lee Lozano (1930–1999)

Lee Lozano’s huge sectioned canvases have a directional paint quality sweeping through and around curves into sharp breaks. The break in a form is determined by multiple means: by an Albersian allusion to convex-concave manipulations of volume and plane, by a change in direction or by color gradation.
—Diane Waldman, December 1966


Rosalyn Drexler, Chuck Watches Rescue, 1989.


Rosalyn Drexler (B. 1926)

Rosalyn Drexler continues to show her hot hot-colored and cool hot-colored cover stories whose surface images and colors have an instantaneous flash effect on a viewer.
—T. Berrigan, April 1965


Pat Steir (B. 1940)

Pat Steir, having boldly confronted her past, is now able to concentrate on her future. Long ago she wrote “Remember me” across some drawings. She also wrote “To make my mark.” Although she is not complacent, she is able to acknowledge a measure of satisfaction. “I’ve succeeded in finding a life I wasn’t expected to have.”
—Paul Gardner, November 1985


Arakawa (1936–2010)

A painter, poet, filmmaker and inventor too, Arakawa has lived in New York for almost 20 years, confounding critics and collectors as he transforms words into art, tersely explaining that “the sentence is a picture for me,” and that his poetry is “a map of the mind.” Does this sound confusing, irritating, esoteric, scandalously vague? If so, relax. . . . His diagrams, graphs, arrows, dots and word plays-and-ploys “convey information,” he maintains, quickly adding with a Dadaesque twinkle, “but I like the idea of nonsense.”
—Paul Gardner, May 1980


A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of ARTnews on page 76.

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