Perle Fine | Accordment Series

PRESS RELEASE

PRESS RELEASE: Perle Fine | Accordment Series, Feb 13 - Mar 14, 2020

 

Berry Campbell is pleased to announce an exhibition of paintings by the renowned Abstract Expressionist painter, Perle Fine (1905-1988) Committed to abstraction throughout a career that lasted fifty years, Perle Fine maintained high ideals, never adopting a method to follow a trend or compromising when her work was outside the mainstream. Although she experienced the barriers that limited the opportunities for women artists in the era—especially those who entered into the macho milieu of Abstract Expressionism—she held to her belief that it was painting itself that mattered, not who had created it. However, Fine’s achievement and that of other women of her time are now being given serious attention, such as in the 2016 exhibition, Women of Abstract Expressionism, held at the Denver Art Museum. Recently Fine was included in Sparkling Amazons: Women of Abstract Expressionism from the 9th Street Show at the Katonah Museum of Art and Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection curated by Richard Prince at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Perle Fine: The Accordment Series will open with a reception on Thursday, February 13, 2020 from 6 to 8 pm and will continue through March 14, 2020.

THE ACCORDMENT SERIES (1969 - 1985)

Born in 1905, Perle Fine was a part of the very early generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, including Lee Krasner (b. 1908), Willem de Kooning (b. 1904), and Mark Rothko (b. 1903). After Fine studied with Hans Hofmann in the 1930s, Willem de Kooning invited Fine to join the group of downtown artists who formed the 8th Street Club (“The Club”), where she became a formidable member. She was one of the first female artists to show with Betty Parsons Gallery and also became one of the few women included in the famed 9th Street Show of 1951.

 

Fine had a long and successful career, never wavering from her commitment to painting in a pure abstract manner with color as her focus. However, Fine never felt the need to create a “signature” style and found ways to continually look forward to advance her concepts and methods as dictated by her personal creativity.

In the early 1950s, Fine created soft, undulating forms in her Prescience Series. She then followed this series by working in a more classic Abstract Expressionist style in the later 1950s. Preparing for a solo exhibition at Graham Gallery, New York in the early 1960s, Fine surprised her colleagues by showing a new body of work she called the Cool Series. She shifted away from gestural painting towards a more contemporary color field mode by using rectangular, geometric shapes floating atop fields of soft colors. By 1965, she reinvented herself again by making three-dimensional wood collages painted with strong patterns. Shifting tastes had moved on and away from Abstract Expressionism and, on par with the times and still immersed in the downtown art scene, Fine created collages in an Op Art style akin to Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely. This genre of art was the focus of the important exhibition, The Responsive Eye, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1965. 

Perle Fine created the Accordment Series from 1969 through the mid-1980s. This group of paintings is a culmination of all of the modes of painting that came before. Fine named the series “accordment” meaning “an agreement” or “acceptance.”1 In the 1940s, the grid structure became an important element for Fine based on Piet Mondrian’s theories, which made a huge impact on her creative decisions. “He freed every artist,” she said.2 

Fine’s connection with Minimalism is clear. Kathleen Housley states in her seminal book, Tranquil Power: The Art and Life of Perle Fine: “Close in age and in temperament, Fine and [Agnes] Martin shared many similarities, one being that their art was routinely described by critics as ‘atmospheric’ and ‘classic.’”3 The two artists appeared together in a group show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1962 called Geometric Abstraction in America. Perle Fine’s grids are set apart from minimalist tendencies by using colorful lines, planes of color, and sweeping brushstrokes. Housley states: “Fine’s unique strength was, and always had been, her use of color.”

Perle Fine started painting the Accordments while she was teaching at Hofstra University (1962–1973). While working on this series, she was honored with a retrospective exhibition at Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York, in 1978. Perle Fine: Major Works 1954-1978 displayed her early paintings, but also emphasized her current body of work, the Accordments. In the exhibition catalogue, museum curator, David Deitcher, said of these paintings, “bands of color produce luminosity that seems to emanate from within the grid itself.” Of the early Accordments, he writes: “Beginning in 1969 she returned full-time to the two-dimensional support, using an all-over linear pattern on a field of color. Yet in some paintings, a curving all-over pattern meanders across the monochromatic ground and leads the eye through the remains of vertical/horizontal structure. In others, a simple grid criss-crosses the colored field. Some of its interstices contain diagonal lines, adding a flickering affect.”5

In a 1978 review in the New York Times, Vivien Raynor highlights Fine’s paintings in a group show titled, On the Edge of Color, at Landmark Gallery in SoHo: “The most luminous shades are here in Perle Fine’s small striped canvas-one of her ‘Accordment’ series-in which stripes of pink, pinkish blue and light orange enhance one another vertically; while horizontals in faint pencil divide them at a measured intervals.”6 There is a playful feel to the way the grid at top of the colored ground makes the eye dance around the canvas. On closer look, the viewer can see the grid lines are painted in varying vibrating colors that shift the focus from one line to the other. 

Peter Frank wrote in the Village Voice of her Accordments: “Her brushwork was very sensual, at times not only underlying the grid, but surrounding it and ‘reinventing’ it from reaching the picture’s edge.”7 Housley continues: “The handrendered lines, fluctuating in intensity, and the alternation of color longitudinally set up ‘color-rhythms’ that were asymmetric, creating a rolling syncopation.”8

After a solo exhibition at Joan Washburn Gallery in 1972, Fine had three solo exhibitions of her Accordment paintings at Andre Zarre Gallery in 1973, 1976, and 1977. Reviewing her 1973 exhibition in Arts Magazine, art critic, Edgar Buonagurio compares Perle Fine’s Accordment Series to Edouard Monet’s series of Water Lilies, “these are gentle paintings of near unspeakable beauty . . . with an elusive ethereal light.”9 

1. David Deitcher, Perle Fine: Major Works: 1954–1978 (East Hampton, New York: Guild Hall Museum, 1978.) n.p.

2. Kathleen L. Housley, Tranquil Power: The Art and Life of Perle Fine (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 2005). p. 215.
3. Ibid. p. 216.
4. Ibid. p. 215.
5. Deitcher, n.p.
6.Vivian Raynor, “On the Edge of Color,” The New York Times, November 25, 1977.
7. Peter Frank, “Art Review Perle Fine at Andre Zarre,” The Village Voice, 1978.
8. Housley, p. 216.
9. Edgar Buonagurio, “Perle Fine” Arts Magazine, February 1973.


PERLE FINE (1905-1988)

Committed to abstraction throughout a career that lasted fifty years, Perle Fine maintained high ideals, never adopting a method to follow a trend or compromising when her work was outside the mainstream.[1] Although she experienced the barriers that limited the opportunities for women artists in the era—especially those who entered into the macho milieu of Abstract Expressionism—she held to her belief that it was painting itself that mattered, not who had created it. However, Fine’s achievement and that of other women of her time are now being given serious attention, such as in the 2016 exhibition, Women of Abstract Expressionism, held at the Denver Art Museum.  Recently Fine was included in Sparkling Amazons: Women of Abstract Expressionism from the 9th Street Show at the Katonah Museum of Art and Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection curated by Richard Prince at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

One of six children, Fine was born in Boston in 1905 to parents who had recently emigrated from Russia. She began studying art while growing up in nearby Malden, Massachusetts. Before finishing high school, she took classes in illustration and graphic design at the School of Practical Art, Boston (she paid her tuition by working in the bursar’s office). In 1927 or 1928, she moved to New York City, continuing her training under Pruett Carter at the Grand Central School of Art. In 1930, she transferred to the Art Students League and studied there with Kimon Nicolaides, absorbing his method of combining spontaneity with an academic approach to figural modeling. In the same year, she married Maurice Berezov, a fellow artist with whom she had become acquainted at Grand Central. 

When Hans Hofmann moved his popular Munich art school to New York in 1933, Fine took the opportunity to enroll. Her classmates included avant-garde artists Larry Rivers, Robert De Niro, and Lee Krasner, who became her lifelong friends. Fine also attended Hofmann’s summer school in Provincetown. By 1943, she had begun to gain recognition. That year she was awarded a grant from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; she would receive additional grants from the foundation in the years ahead. She also began exhibiting at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of this Century Gallery and at the Museum of Nonobjective Painting (now, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York), then under the directorship of Hilla Rebay.

In 1945, Fine joined American Abstract Artists, a group founded in 1936 to give abstract art a voice in the United States by exhibitions, publications, and discussions. Through the organization, with which she exhibited through the 1970s, she became acquainted with many leading abstract artists. Her first solo exhibition was held in February ­and March of 1945 at the Willard Gallery on East 57th Street. By the end of the year, she was represented by Karl Nierendorf, who specialized in the German Blaue Reiter group.

After Nierendorf’s death, Fine was represented by Betty Parsons, whose gallery had become the leading showplace for cutting-edge art in New York. Among the artists whose work she represented were Adolph Gottlieb, Hofmann, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Barnett Newman, Pollock, Reinhardt, Rothko, and Clyfford Still. In 1949, Fine was invited by de Kooning to join “The Club,” a group including Kline, Reinhardt, Philip Guston, and Elaine de Kooning.

In the late 1940s, Fine drew extensively from Cubist fragmentation as well as from the ideas of Hans Hofmann on the harmonics and formal tensions of color and shape. In the early 1950s, she moved in a new direction emphasizing color as an expressive means of its own. Rendered with staining and varying degrees of translucency, the serene, reductive compositions that resulted are suggestive of the works of Mark Rothko, with whom she was close at the time. However, she felt there was an essential difference between her art and Rothko’s. While acknowledging that both were creating “quiet complexes of color,” she felt she did not seek Rothko’s sublime transcendence. Instead she stated that she kept her focus on “the thing itself.”[2] Among the works from this time is a series she called Prescience, in which she filled large canvases with layered color, some seemingly below the surface and pushing forward, that has the ghostly quality of pentimenti. Her method still evoked the push-pull of Hofmann, but instead of gesture and color, it consisted of etherealized foreground and background shapes.”[3] When Fine had a solo show at Betty Parsons in December of 1952, Lawrence Campbell called the works on view, “marks on the walls made by the smoke from a candle.”[4] 

 In 1954, Fine and Berezov built a one-room studio house in the woods in Springs, East Hampton, an area where they had often visited Krasner and Pollock. After the construction was complete, Fine decided to remain in Springs throughout the year. In 1955, she became affiliated with Tanager Gallery, where she had solo shows through 1960. 

In the late 1950s, Fine made intricate use of collage in her paintings, interweaving jagged scraps of paper, newspaper cutouts and aluminum and gold foil across white fields. In about 1961, she destroyed a show’s worth of her art and created a new group of works that she called the Cool Series. In accord with the Color Field movement, these reductive, vibrant, geometric images were praised when they were shown at Graham Gallery in 1963 and 1964.[5] In the mid-1960s, Fine created a series of painted wood reliefs in which the parts were fragmented yet formed a cohesive totality. From 1962 until 1973, Fine served as an Associate Professor of Art at Hofstra University, Hempstead, Long Island, where a ten-year retrospective of her work was held in 1974 following her retirement from teaching. Begun in 1969, Fine’s Accordment Series included drawings, gouaches, and oils, in which she utilized Mondrian’s grid construction as a framework for overall shimmering surface effects. 

Fine exhibited her work extensively in solo and group shows. Following her death from pneumonia in 1988, she was featured in solo exhibitions at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, East Hampton, New York (2005) and again at Hofstra in 2009. 

Fine’s work is represented in many important private and public collections, including Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; Ball State Museum of Art, Muncie, Indiana; Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, Nashville, Tennessee; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Guild Hall, East Hampton, New York; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Hofstra University, Long Island, New York; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Indiana University Art Museum, Bloomington; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; New York University Art Collection; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York; Principia College, Saint Louis, Missouri; Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Massachusetts; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; University of California Art Museum, Berkeley; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; and Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.

 -Lisa N. Peters, Ph.D.

[1]  The main source on Fine is Kathleen L. Housley, Tranquil Power: The Art and Life of Perle Fine (New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 2005).

[2] Discussed in Housley, p. 157.

[3] Howard Devree, “Two Group Annuals: Abstract Round-Up,” The New York Times, March 2, 1952, p. X13.

[4] Lawrence Campbell, “Reviews and Previews,” Artnews (December 1952), p. 43.

[5] A 2011 exhibition featured this series (Curated by Christine Berry), which was accompanied by a catalogue: Lisa N. Peters, Perle Fine: The Cool Series, 1961-1963 (New York: Spanierman Modern, 2011).