Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art, an exhibition of paintings created by American artist Theresa Ferber Bernstein, opens November 12 and runs through January 18 at the Graduate Center’s James Gallery, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 12. A concurrent exhibit can be seen at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College.
Curator Gail Levin, distinguished professor of art history, American studies, and women’s studies at the GC and Baruch, put together the Bernstein exhibits in a concerted effort to recover the artist’s significant contributions, which spanned a century. Bernstein (ca. 1890–2002) was a unique chronicler of twentieth-century American life, according to Levin; she painted the big issues of her day, such as the meetings for women’s suffrage in New York City, World War I parades, immigrants in the 1920s, and hippies in the 1960s.
“I discovered Bernstein while researching Edward Hopper,” said Levin, an acclaimed biographer of Hopper. “She was once more popular than Hopper, with whom she sometimes showed during the 1910s and 1920s.” The current exhibition, she said, “explores how fame is fleeting, but shows that the quality of her work has outlived fad and fashion.” Levin will give a gallery talk at 6:30 p.m. Monday, November 18.
The show’s catalogue, edited by Levin, includes essays by her graduate students, as well as the evidence of her wide search for Bernstein’s work, including Bernstein’s portrait of Alfred Einstein. The book also considers how the achievements of some women artists of Bernstein’s generation were erased.
According to Levin, Bernstein’s style began as a kind of realism, often linked by critics to the Ashcan School, but evolved into something more expressionist. Musically inclined, she was a fan of opera, dance, and jazz. She painted Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Charlie Parker, as well as Loie Fuller, Martha Graham, and Verdi’s Requiem.
Duncan Phillips was the first patron to buy Bernstein’s work for a museum, and the Phillips Collection is lending these works to Bernstein shows organized by Levin. Other museums which will exhibit Bernstein works range from coast to coast, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the De Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
(Watch Levin on video explain the origins and inspiration for Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art.)