Portrait of an Artist, Her Work Revived
“Tranquil Power: The Art of Perle Fine” at the Hofstra University Museum is the latest effort in this continuing re-evaluation of the contribution of women to the Abstract Expressionist movement, bringing together around 40 works by this under-recognized member of the New York School. Assembled by Susan W. Knowles, a guest curator, with loans from museums and private collections, it includes some artworks that have rarely, if at all, been on public display.
The show has added resonance here given that Fine (1905-1988) was a faculty member at Hofstra from 1962 to 1974, commuting from her home and studio in Springs. Numerous art styles — Minimalism, Conceptualism, Pop Art — came and went, but Fine stuck to abstraction in her work for close to 50 years.
Though she is little known today, Fine was among the most prominent female artists associated with Abstract Expressionism. She studied with the influential German émigré abstract artist Hans Hofmann, was included in pioneering group exhibitions of abstract art at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago and elsewhere and showed with the powerful Betty Parsons Gallery. In 1950 she was nominated by Willem de Kooning and then admitted to the 8th Street Club, a group of prominent New York abstract painters; she was one of the first female members. For a while there she was a celebrated artist.
So why has her star dimmed so dramatically in the intervening decades? Partly I think it was because, unlike Krasner, she was not married to a famous artist; her husband, Maurice Berezov (1902-1989), was a talented photographer who documented the Abstract Expressionist circle and parlayed his art school background into a Madison Avenue advertising job. Several of his photographs of Fine and the Abstract Expressionists — Pollock, Krasner, de Kooning and many others — are showing in a companion exhibition on the ninth floor of the nearby Axinn Library.
Another reason for her obscurity lies in the work itself. Fine could paint; there is no doubt of that. She even produced several really beautiful and successful pictures, ranging from an early, harmonious work, “Untitled” (c. 1938), on loan from the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, to “Astraea” (1956), a raw, charged abstract with collage. But when you walk around this exhibition, it quickly becomes apparent that she never settled on her own style.
THE NEW YORK TIMES