Rosalyn Drexler: Who Does She Think She Is?

February 10, 2017 - April 17, 2017
Barney A. Ebsworth Gallery

This first full-career retrospective highlights the groundbreaking work of Rosalyn Drexler (American, b. 1926), celebrating her unique contributions to the history of Pop art and her long and multifaceted practice as an artist, novelist, and award-winning playwright. The exhibition features major paintings and collages alongside rarely seen early sculptures as well as photographic and video documentation encompassing Drexler’s wide-ranging and colorful career from the 1950s to the present.

During the early 1960s Drexler earned critical acclaim for visually arresting paintings in which she cut out and painted over figures from movie posters, newspapers, and advertisements, setting them against vivid backgrounds reminiscent of color field painting to create evocative yet often ambivalent scenarios. Zeroing in on sexual stereotypes and the dark side of mass-media spectacle, Drexler’s work has explored themes such as intimacy, violence, and masculinity in ways both humorous and subversive. Her early paintings can be read as a protofeminist take on Pop art that distinguishes her from such well-known peers as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and anticipates the appropriation strategies of the Pictures Generation artists in the late 1970s and 1980s.

A prolific writer since the 1960s, Drexler’s numerous plays and novels often intersect with the themes of her art as well as her personal experiences—including an infamous stint as a professional wrestler—articulating an offbeat, darkly absurdist sensibility that sharply critiques a variety of the cultural and sexual mores of her time.

The exhibition was organized by the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University and cocurated by Katy Siegel and Caitlin Julia Rubin. Its presentation at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is curated by Allison Unruh, associate curator.

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Exhibition support

Support for the exhibition is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.

About the artist

Bronx-born artist Rosalyn Drexler (American, b. 1926) first began creating sculptural assemblages in the mid-1950s, a selection of which comprised her first solo exhibition at New York's Reuben Gallery in 1960. In the early 1960s she transitioned to painting, incorporating images culled from a variety of popular sources. In addition to her work as a visual artist, Drexler is an accomplished novelist and playwright. She won her first of three Obie Awards for her one-act musical Home Movies (with music by Al Carmines), which premiered at the Judson Poets’ Theater in 1964. She has also authored multiple novels, including I Am the Beautiful Stranger (1965), To Smithereens (1972), Art Does (Not!) Exist (1996), and Vulgar Lives (2007). Drexler also published five novels under the pseudonym Julia Sorel, including a novelization of the film Rocky (1976), and she was part of the team of writers who received an Emmy award in 1974 for Lily Tomlin’s television special Lily. Drexler’s work can be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and Walker Art Center, among others.

Exhibition catalog

A fully illustrated catalog, the most comprehensive documentation of Rosalyn Drexler’s work to date, accompanies the exhibition. Edited by Katy Siegel, it includes texts by Hilton Als, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Lobel, Kalliopi Minioudaki, Caitlin Rubin, Siegel, and Allison Unruh. The book also features excerpts from Drexler’s plays and novels.

Related programs

Spring 2017 Exhibitions Opening

Gallery Talk: Allison Unruh and Caitlin Julia Rubin 

Women and the Kemper: Behind the Scenes—Rosalyn Drexler

Rosalyn Drexler's Cinematic Connections: Comedians, Gangsters & Fighters

Selected Plays by Rosalyn Drexler: Utopia Parkway and Room 17C

Pop Art in Practice: The Collage of Rosalyn Drexler

Member Book Discussion: Rosalyn Drexler's I Am the Beautiful Stranger

Image credits

Previous: Rosalyn Drexler (American, b. 1926), Lovers, 1963. Acrylic and paper collage on canvas, 55 1/4 x 52". Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery; George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, by exchange, 2016. © 2017 Rosalyn Drexler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.