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Lois Dodd: Catching the Light

First Museum Retrospective for the Artist Opens May 18 at Kansas City’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

     New York- and Maine-based painter Lois Dodd is long overdue for a celebration of her artistic works. The exhibition Lois Dodd: Catching the Light is the first career retrospective for the painter, now in her 80s, and features more than fifty paintings from six decades. The exhibition is on view May 18–August 26, 2012, at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and travels to the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, where it will be on view January 17–April 7, 2013. The exhibition was organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art by Barbara O’Brien, chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections.
     Lois Dodd is best know for her works in which she paints the world around her—the cityscapes of New York City and the woods and gardens of Maine and New Jersey. A key member of New York’s postwar art scene, she was a founding member of Tanager Gallery, one of the 10th Street cooperatives, and later taught at Brooklyn College for 25 years. She also found a second home in Maine and became associated with the Lincolnville artists, including Alex Katz and Neil Welliver, before moving to mid-Coast Maine where she has lived and painted en plein air for several decades.
     Born in 1927 in Montclair, New Jersey, Dodd first came to live in New York as a student at the Cooper Union. She studied there from 1945–48, a time when New York emerged as the postwar art capital of the world and Abstract Expressionism flourished at the hands of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. In 1952, she was the only female co-founder of the Tanager Gallery, along with artists Philip Pearlstein and Charles Cajori, among others. Rather than give in to abstraction and later periods of minimalism and Pop, Dodd has remained faithful to painting her immediate surroundings, whether it be a cityscape or an interior view of her apartment.

Above: Eric Fertman, Stems 2010; stained oak, steel, horsehair, 50x 18 x 12 1/2 in.; Courtesy of Susan Inglett Gallery, New York, New York.
     Dodd was part of the wave of New York modernists to explore the coast of Maine in the later half of the 20th-century. Like Fairfield Porter, Rackstraw Downes, Alex Katz, and Neil Welliver, Dodd started spending her summers in Maine, beginning in 1951. Attracted by the inexpensive but rambling old farmhouses, endless woods, stone quarries, and the bright sunshine, Dodd and her fellow artists sought both companionship and escape from the demands of city life. At one time, Dodd shared a house with Alex Katz, who in the exhibition catalogue refers to Dodd’s work as, “fresh, honest, direct.” To this day, Dodd can be found trekking through the fields and forests in her Maine environs with canvas and paint supplies in hand.
     She often works en plein air, starting paintings on site in the woods or other location and finishing them in her studio. In her exhibition essay, O’Brien writes, “Her paintings are premised on the truth that she stood in this place, with the light casting shadows just so, the temperature of the air warm or cool, the sun warm against her face, protected by the brim of a straw hat; her fingers able to employ brush to linen against the wind of a New Jersey winter.” At times, her observations are so direct that she uses the window to frame her compositions, as seen in the exhibition’s View of Neighbors House in Winter (1977–78).
     Like artists before her, Dodd often returns to the same location and views to explore at different times of day and times of year. Lois Dodd: Catching the Light includes a number of views of a men’s shelter outside her Lower East End apartment that become studies of light, architecture, and the city. In the exhibition’s Men’s Shelter, April, 1968 (1968), one sees the verdant grass of spring with shadows cast by the surrounding architecture of the neighboring buildings, depicted through her flat blocks of color. About Dodd, artist Will Barnet said in an interview, “she has this broad imagery and also this ability to do different subjects and give them what was important in that particular moment. She has an extraordinary body of feeling about the possibility of imagery that can be so different from each other, yet each a work of art, which is not easy to do.”
     With a career that spans six decades, Dodd is currently a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Academy of Design, and a member of the board of governors for the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Among many honors, she recently was awarded the Benjamin West Clinedinist Memorial Medal in 2007 from the Artists’ Fellowship, Inc. and Cooper Union’s Augustus Saint-Gaudens Award for professional achievement in art in 2005. Her works can be found in museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; Portland Museum of Art, Maine, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, among others.
     A catalogue accompanies the exhibition Lois Dodd: Catching the Light and includes essays by Alison Ferris, Barbara O’Brien, and John Yau includes 51 color plates and 26 illustrations. In the essays, Ferris, curator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, focuses on Maine and its influences on the artist’s work. O’Brien, chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and exhibition curator, discusses the artist’s environment and subjects. Yau, poet, art critic, curator, and professor at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, examines her work in New York. The catalogue will also include personal reflections on the artist by Will Barnet, Frances Barth, Charles Cajori, Wolf Kahn, Alex Katz, Leslie Land, Mel Leipzig, Carl Little, Norma Marin, Elizabeth O’Reilly, and Philip Pearlstein. The catalogue sells for $40 and will be available in May through the Museum Shop (www.kemperart.org) and D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers (www.artbook.com).

Hours and Admission

The Kemper Museum (4420 Warwick Blvd.) is open 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m., Tuesday–Thursday; 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday; and 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., Sunday. Café Sebastienne serves lunch 11:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m., Tuesday–Sunday; and dinner 5:30–9:00 p.m., Friday–Saturday. The Museum and Café are closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission is free.

Kemper at the Crossroads (33 West 19th Street) is open noon–8:00 p.m., Friday (open until 10:00 p.m. on First Fridays) and noon–6:00 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. The galleries of Kemper East (200 E. 44th Street) are open 10:00 a.m.–4 p.m., Tuesday–Friday. Admission is free.

Thank you

The exhibition and catalogue are made possible by the generous support of Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts, Commerce Bank, Trustee; Alexandre Gallery, New York; and William T. Kemper Foundation, Commerce Bank, Trustee.

Support for Kemper Museum exhibitions is generously provided by Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; Arvin Gottlieb Charitable Foundation, UMB Bank, n.a., Trustee; Francis Family Foundation; Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts, Commerce Bank, Trustee; David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; William T. Kemper Foundation, Commerce Bank, Trustee; ArtsKC Fund—Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City; DST Systems, Inc.; and Sosland Foundation.

For more general information about the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, visit www.kemperart.org.

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