Brooklyn, N.Y.—At last year’s 54th Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most highly respected art exhibitions, Brooklyn College made a lasting impression. Thousands of art lovers came to marvel at the work of Marion Greenstone ’46, an artist whose influence on the modern art world is only now coming to light. It was the first exhibition of her work since her death in 2005.
Admirers of Greenstone’s works, which were moved to Rome’s renowned Museo Venanzo Crocetti from the Palazzo Zenobio in Venice last fall, hope that the attention surrounding her paintings in Italy will translate into a big welcome upon their return to America.
Maria Rand, director of the Brooklyn College Art Gallery, explains that the works displayed in Venice were only recently discovered in the basement of the painter’s Carroll Street home in Brooklyn. Greenstone’s sister, Cora Hahn, who also graduated from Brooklyn College and now resides in Rome, was seeking to donate roughly 200 of her late sibling’s paintings.
Among the first to respond to Hahn’s call were Maria and her husband, Archie Rand, Presidential Professor of Art and a renowned artist and muralist whose works have been exhibited around the world. Impressed by the quality of Greenstone’s art, Maria selected 37 of the paintings.
“She developed a strong, assertive abstract style,” Archie Rand says of Greenstone’s work. “She used themes and stylistic touches that only became more popular among better-known artists 10 or 20 years later.”
Greenstone’s works were scheduled to come down before the start of the renowned Biennale, which attracts thousands of art lovers and tourists to Venice every two years. But officials from the famous show visited the Greenstone exhibit and asked that the paintings remain on display during the Biennale. Palazzo Zenobio and the paintings were included in the Biennale’s directory of outside venues to visit and explore.
Greenstone, née Isaacson, received a B.A. from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia University. She married Dr. Myron Greenstone, and before settling into a comfortable life in the classroom, she set out to explore her artistic side.
It was a long-cherished dream of hers, she later wrote.
Greenstone went to Cooper Union and won a Fulbright to study art in Italy. She then moved to Canada before finally returning to Brooklyn, teaching for a time at Pratt Institute. She met and mingled with many of the art world’s soon-to-be-famous artists, including Joe Raffaele, Paul Thek, Ray Johnson, Eva Hesse, Peter Hujar and R.B. Kitaj, and continued to paint throughout her life until the late 1990s. She died after a long battle with ovarian and lung cancer in 2005.
“Marion could have followed a more traditional path — one that her schooling had prepared her for. Instead, she chose to follow her passion — painting,” says Maria Ann Conelli, dean of the School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts. “She came to know some of the most significant painters of the 20th century as she taught the next generation of artists. Hers is an extraordinary tale — a woman who left behind what was expected of her in order to explore an unconventional life dedicated to her art.”
A film retrospective of Greenstone’s work and career is expected to go on tour in 2013.