I first encountered the work of Ida Applebroog in graduate school thanks to Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe. I think it was during my first semester at Cal Arts and I can see Jeremy in one his standard dark-blue T-shirts pacing back and forth with an imaginary cigarette between his sleek fingers telling us about an art object he received through the mail. This was in 1981 and it is hard to reconstruct at this remove whether Jeremy told us that this woman artist, Ida Applebroog, was not represented by a gallery or whether I construed that (correctly or incorrectly) at the time based on what he was saying and how he said it. What I do remember is thinking a great deal about these small objects finding their audience through the mail. At that time, I had trouble deciphering whether this was a desperate “last resort” for women artists who couldn’t find representation in a male dominated art world or whether it was a form of empowerment. Certainly, just sitting around in one’s studio while one’s male peers were getting most of the attention didn’t seem very promising.
At about the same time, Sherrie Levine and Louise Lawler and few other women artists began to host one night exhibitions in non-traditional spaces. The exhibitions were similar to what we might now think of as “pop-up” galleries but also resembled turn of the century salons, inviting people for drink and conversation. These women were not exhibiting in established galleries either. They were also finding avenues to their audiences without the imprimatur of the sanctioned art world. And these activities made it clear that waiting to be anointed and legitimated by someone else could be crippling for women artists and that those who believed in their work struck out on their own and found a way to be as artists in the world. And if that more traditional form of acceptance came to these women eventually, it was because they were irrepressible and sure of their creative voices in the first place. I have always thought of Ida as an inspiration and every week for 6 months when I sat down to email an image from my series Pigeon Study, 2007-2008 to my mailing list, I thought of Ida.
My experience with the work of Ida Applebroog is much different, as I first saw her work at Ronald Feldman Galley in the mid 1980’s. I felt a connection to her portrayal of women and domestic spaces, and to her use of cartoon newspaper formats. One would discover narratives which were so open ended that they also invited one’s personal stories to infiltrate the painting while viewing them. At this time there were a lot of German and Italian expressionist paintings being shown in New York and none were by women. Applebroog’s works with their elegance were a wonderful inspiration to me and influenced an early book work of mine, Venus’ Psychic Fate. Thinking back maybe it is possible that her work influenced Keith Haring…… just a thought……
SUSAN AND CHRYSANNE:
Because both of us found Ida Applebroog inspirational early in our careers we decided to ask Ida if she would consider being the first person we interviewed for our blog. While she was not able to commit to a long interview and photo shoot she did write back to us and we are very pleased to share her letter with you. She also graciously allowed us to choose the images of her work that accompany this post.
I am sending you some text on this subject that I think will be of interest you.
I am 20 yrs. old. I work at an ad agency. It isn’t quite the “Mad Men” version of the 60s.
It is 1950. Everyone is geared toward family.
The only degree that counts is “Mrs” (M.R.S. degrees meaning to get a husband)
I am the only woman in the bullpen.
I do layout and lettering.
I hate it. So I find a job at the NY Public Library’s Arts Division. I don’t tell them this.
I say I am leaving to get married. Everyone accepts this as a positive move.
And I assure myself of getting a good reference —should I ever need one in the future.
By age 35 I have 4 children.
Motherhood and being an artist is not exactly a formulaic proposition.
Why it is still such a taboo is something that makes me crazy…Ida Applebroog