A Pioneering Feminist Artist’s Studio Gets Revived in New York
New York Times
In 1995, at the Gramercy International Art Fair, the art dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who at the time had yet to open his own gallery, created a kind of reproduction of Florine Stettheimer’s studio. Stettheimer was a pioneering modernist and feminist painter who died in 1944 and for many years was little known outside of a small circle of art historians and admirers. Deitch filled the Gramercy Hotel’s penthouse with ornate furniture and cellophane curtains to approximate Stettheimer’s studio at 80 West 40th Street, where she hosted one of the city’s great salons, which counted among its guests the critic Henry McBride, as well as Georgia O’Keefe and Marcel Duchamp. (Stettheimer hosted Duchamp’s 30th birthday, a scene that she later painted.) In 1996, Deitch would open his gallery — Deitch Projects, in SoHo, known for its performative exhibitions and decadent events — using Stettheimer as a kind of model.
“The idea that she created a platform for artists, writers, musicians and thinkers to connect — that was part of the motivation behind Deitch Projects,” he said. “We wanted to create a social platform for creative connections. Some people wondered, ‘Why are there so many parties?’ But that was part of the mission.”
Now, Deitch will reprise the Stettheimer salon this week at the Armory Show. Deitch has decorated an exhibitor’s booth in the style of Stettheimer’s studio, with contributions from contemporary painters like Cecily Brown and John Currin. But a lot has changed since 1995. The Gramercy International Art Fair — where dealers sold work out of the shabby rooms where they also slept — eventually outgrew its confines and was renamed the Armory Show (it’s now held at Piers 92 and 94, a hulking trade show venue on the Hudson River). And Deitch reopened his gallery in SoHo last fall after a brief hiatus while he served as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
The perception of Stettheimer has itself changed. She exhibited regularly in her lifetime, but by the time of her death her paintings were a rarity in galleries and museums. (She had, in fact, asked her family to destroy her work when she died, but they defied her will.) She was overlooked for decades, but has steadily gained a posthumous reputation as an important figurative painter and a kind of precursor to Pop art, among other art historical strands. (A young Andy Warhol was among her disciples, and Deitch discovered her through a passage in Warhol’s 1980 book “Popism.”) The same year as Deitch’s first recreation of the salon, the Whitney Museum mounted a retrospective of her work, and her esteem has only grown since then. She’ll be the subject of a new retrospective at the Jewish Museum in New York opening this spring. If Deitch’s goal in ’95 was to introduce Stettheimer to an unsuspecting public, the mission now is illustrating her wide influence. “Just like how the art world is a different thing and the fair is no longer in a hotel, where gallerists would put their wares on the bed and the remove them and sleep there,” he said, Stettheimer’s reputation now is “a totally different thing.”
The original version of the salon included artists that Deitch invited to show their work, people that he thought had some affinity with Stettheimer, like Elizabeth Peyton and Jeff Koons. Now, Deitch has included a number of younger women artists whose careers have emerged since the last show, like Jamian Juliano-Villani and Chloe Wise. Deitch said that contemporary artists are particularly interested in how Stettheimer might provide some guidance for the present: She managed to build a community around herself, something that has been diluted by the art world’s current commercialism. “The best artists are looking toward the future, but are attuned to the present,” he said. “Artists are always reshuffling the deck of our history.”