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Image caption: Lee Hall by Henry Martin, 2014
The Archives of American Art have acquired the papers of artist and educator Lee Hall (1934–2017), who I was lucky enough to interview for my biography on Agnes Martin. Lee's smart take-down of the New York art world of the 1950s and 60s is the bedrock to the middle section of my biography. Not only was Lee a great person to interview on intellectual grounds, she was also a very kind and encouraging host when I travelled to visit her in South Hadley in 2014, and when she read the first draft of the book and gave it an endorsement. I had the feeling from Lee that she left the art world behind years ago (and she knew she was better off without it) though she continued to paint colourful abstractions in her impressive studio. Here is a segement from Agnes Martin: Pioneer, Painter, Icon (Schaffner Press. 2018).
The artist Lee Hall, who first showed with the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1974, gives her view on the gender dynamics within the art world in the 1960s:
"Abstract Expressionism was spoken of often in terms of military images, sports images, which is the way that everything is spoken of in American culture now. It was a very masculine language. Talking about muscularity, aggression, fighting and struggle. The joke was that every woman should find a good man and get to work under him and work her way up. And women who went into the Cedar Bar for instance were assumed to be there to pick up artists and all that. The women artists who were coming to prominence were gaining recognition not so much as artists but more so as fellow travelers of the guys—as their wives—like Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner. Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler were somewhat different but they were still very much attached to the masculine world."
For Hall, there weren’t any female artists to look up to “in either history or in the contemporary scene. You were just on your own.”