Eric Firestone Gallery will present a selection of paintings by Pat Passlof (1928–2011) for its Frieze Masters Spotlight presentation | S18 on view October 12–16, 2022.
Passlof was a central and active figure in the Abstract Expressionist art community that burgeoned in New York City after the war. In the context of renewed interest in fellow Abstract Expressionist female artists like Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler, it is meaningful to consider Pat Passlof ’s significant contribution to the artistic genre. A student of Willem de Kooning, she created abstract paintings that responded to memory, experience, and place without narrative descriptors. She used open-ended forms and a variety of painterly marks and tempos. Her work suggests a belief in the manifold possibilities of how paint communicates. Eric Firestone Gallery’s Frieze Masters presentation reflects the gallery’s commitment to revisiting the ever-evolving art historical canon. Paintings by Pat Passlof focuses on work created during the late 1950s and early ‘60s when Passlof lived and worked on East Tenth Street: a highly concentrated “art colony” where painters and sculptors gathered on stoops and operated artist-run spaces to showcase the output of the new generation.
Passlof was born in Georgia in 1928 and grew up in New York City, attending Queens College. In the summer of 1948, she left school to study with Willem de Kooning, who, along with his wife Elaine de Kooning, was teaching at Black Mountain College. At the end of the summer, de Kooning helped Passlof
find a place to live at 80 East Tenth Street. De Kooning suggested that she continue as his private student. Under his instruction, Passlof made a series of detailed pencil drawings from still-life set ups, creating abstract paintings on the side. This foundation and connection to art history—despite her innovative style—runs through Passlof ’s work.
On the stoops of Tenth Street and in the old Waldorf Cafeteria, de Kooning introduced Passlof to a spectrum of other painters. Occasionally, he would allow her to watch him at work. As Passlof recalled, “Afterwards, we often walked to 10 Eighth Street to visit Milton Resnick: yelling from the street until he poked his head out, then climbing four flights to his mystical loft.” Passlof and Resnick would later marry. In 1949, Passlof helped renovate the Eighth Street loft, the first location of “the (Artists’) Club.” Noticing that many
of her peers rarely spoke when they came to the Club, she decided to organize an alternative Wednesday Night Club envisioning it as “junior club.” The Wednesday evening sessions quickly gained popularity, leading the old guard to squelch it for fear of competition.
In 1951, Passlof went to Cranbrook Academy of Art, Michigan. After completing her BFA, she returned to her Tenth Street loft. In 1956, she helped found the March Gallery, where she had two shows and helped organize many others such as Mark di Suvero’s first exhibition. The March Gallery showed artists as varied as Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Boris Lurie, and Elaine de Kooning. In his review of Passlof ’s own March Gallery exhibition, Fairfield Porter wrote: “Pat Passlof ’s painting begins with the proposition, which is not always taken
for granted, that a painting is made up by painting, as a poem is made up out of a series of words.” Porter highlights a salient quality of Passlof ’s work: each painting contains a variety of approaches to constructing form, and she allowed these elements to co-exist through her process based on a system of open structures. The painting March Bird (1956) is emblematic of this approach. By the 1960s, Passlof ’s palette began to lighten. Repeating patterns and marks across the canvas to create dynamic rhythms, Passlof drew upon her own experiences and memories in her work. She titled pieces in reference to people and places of personal significance. Her work often suggested abstracted landscapes, like the later work of Claude Monet, Passlof ’s friendship with Mark Di Suvero led to her 1961 solo exhibition at Dick Bellamy’s Green Gallery. The show was reviewed by Donald Judd, who noted that Passlof ’s work referred to experience, writing, “These paintings are much more ‘Impressionistic’ than ‘abstract.” Describing Passlof ’s work in comparison to Resnick’s, Judd continued: “Within the naturalistic scope, the color is different, more full and lyric, and somewhat sweet,” suggesting a feminine aesthetic.
Untitled, an oil painting by Passlof, was recently acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York and included in the institution’s 2017 exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction. A retrospective of Passlof ’s work Pat Passlof: Selections 1948–2011 was held at the Black Mountain College Museum in 2011. Her work is represented in the collections of Black Mountain College, the Corcoran Collection, and the Milwaukee Museum of Art. Mary Gabriel’s 2018 book Ninth Street Women also spotlit the women of Abstract Expressionism. Eric Firestone Gallery represents the estate of Pat Passlof in coordination with the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, located at 87 Eldridge Street, New York.