Fri 8 Jul – Sat 30 Jul
Martha Visser’t Hooft (1906-1994) was a painter, sculptor, printmaker, and leader in the art community of Buffalo and beyond. She is celebrated and recognized for her works and the links she has forged in Paris, New York, Buffalo and Taos with leaders in social concerns and artistic expression.
The artist said: “In my paintings, I create situations and images beyond the realm of possibility. I invite the mind and the eye into a totally new experience. She lived this mantra throughout her career, applying it in particular to the works she created between 1947 and 1968 when she exhibited regularly in New York with the Contemporary Arts Gallery. Beyond the Realm of the Possible celebrates the period of her career when she was exhibiting in New York. It features works from the collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center and rarely seen loaned works.
Martha Visser’t Hooft was driven by a creative, abstract vision and her concerns about environmental pollution, Native American and women’s rights, and oppressive government. She was a strong and vocal performer. The Burchfield Penney Art Center holds the most extensive collection of his art in various media spanning his career, as well as significant archives relating to his life. This collection reveals his social and political concerns, as well as his distinctive style of expression.
Young Martha Hamlin studied art in Paris in the 1920s at the Académie Julian, a great alternative school to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, especially for women. She explored exciting new European developments, such as Cubism and Surrealism, Russian ballet and modern music. In 1926, she moved to New York to study briefly at the Parsons School of Design, before transferring to the John Murray Anderson School of Theater Design, which she loved.
After returning to live in Buffalo, Martha, her sister Mary, and her parents took a trip to Taos, New Mexico in 1928 to visit the famous Buffalo-born patron Mabel Dodge Luhan and her husband, Pueblo Tony Lujan. The family traveled to Taos many times, and the experience there would influence them throughout their lives. After their trip in 1928, Martha married Franciscus Visser’t Hooft, a Dutch chemist. She struggled to balance the work of a wife and mother while pursuing her artistic career. Nonetheless, she became an influential member of the city’s artistic community. She became one of the founders of the Patteran Society, established in 1933 as a progressive and more inclusive alternative to the traditionally based Buffalo Society of Artists.
Visser’t Hooft continued to be actively involved in Buffalo’s art scene while creating unique abstract and surreal paintings guided by the imagination and influence of contemporary American artists. The Buffalo artist whose work demonstrated the closest kinship with Martha was somewhat younger Chet La More (1908-1980), who came to Buffalo and taught at the Albright Art School in 1942 and 1945- 47. In 1947, during La More’s second term as a professor at Buffalo, Visser’t Hooft had his first exhibition in New York. The two artists share a surrealist approach, unique in their community. Although no documentation has been found linking the two, archives of exhibitions from this period illustrate an affinity in their work.
During the 1940s, Visser’t Hooft began exhibiting his work at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York, the same gallery that in the 1930s featured the work of the now internationally renowned Mark Rothko and Mark Tobey. . His relationship with contemporary art lasted until the gallery closed in the late 1960s. In solo and group exhibitions at Contemporary Arts, his work has been celebrated and acquired for major collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art. Like many female artists, however, Martha did not experience the same success in the male-dominated art world, which led to her being ignored for years by art historians and critics. . This anti-woman, pro-white-man bias unfortunately persists today in the exhibitions and collections of many institutions. Slowly, efforts are being made to bring neglected female artists to the public’s attention.
In 1991, the David Anderson Gallery in Buffalo presented a major retrospective on Martha Visser’s Hooft. For this exhibition, she writes: “For me, painting is creating a bridge between the invisible and the visible. To complement the exhibition, The Poetry/Rare Books Collection and the State University of New York at Buffalo have produced an extensive illustrated catalog with essays by Robert J. Bertholf and Albert L. Michaels and commentary by the artist .
Dr. Bertholf’s catalog essay drew attention to two works that are now in the collection of the Burchfield Penney Art Center. In “The Lyric Painting of Martha Visser’t Hooft” he writes: … The same kind of contrast between the parts of the vision and the whole of the vision appears in the two paintings titled Arrival from 1969 and Blue Shards from 1969. Arrival has a red-orange background and Blue Shards has a blue-green background, but both feature curved geometric shapes suspended in a field as if to be emblematic of parts of the imaginative version now defined by spatial dimensions. The fact that the curved pieces remain separate and are not combined into one dominant figure is in itself significant because the pieces maintain spatial definition to each other and create in the dissemination of their designs a contextual vision that is a radical version reality.
In her day, Martha Visser’t Hooft was seen as radical—ahead of the curve—serving as a role model for young female artists and earning a place among the inner circle of artists in Buffalo and beyond.