5 Fast Facts: Anne Truitt

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Anne Truitt (1921–2004), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 inches; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 inches; NMWA, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt (1921–2004)

1. Unlikely Union

Truitt straddled the line between post-World War II wild child Abstract Expressionism, known for the emotional use and gestural application of color, and its austere successor Minimalism, notable for geometric, manufactured forms. She simultaneously evokes Joan Mitchell’s expressive use of color and John McCracken’s perfect planks.

2. Minimal Representation

Truitt was one of only three women included in the groundbreaking Minimalism exhibition Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors at the Jewish Museum in 1966. Judy Chicago (then known as Judy Gerowitz) and Tina Spiro (Matkovic) also presented works in the exhibition, making the gender representation ratio one woman for every 13 men.

3. Tricky Truitt

Truitt unabashedly employed trompe l’oeil techniques to trick viewers’ eyes. Recessed bases give the impression that her works hover ever so slightly off the floor. Truitt’s subtle shifts in color create the illusion of three-dimensionality on the flat sides of her sculptures.

4. Collaborative Creation

Beginning in 1961, Truitt stopped constructing her own sculptures, focusing her time and energy instead on painting their surfaces. This begs viewers to consider the concept of authorship in relation to artworks made in collaboration.

5. Directions

In preparatory drawings for Summer Dryad (1971) Truitt assigned a cardinal direction to each side of the sculpture, suggesting the current display of the work at NMWA is how she wished for it to be installed and seen.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Pillar Perfect: Louise Nevelson and Anne Truitt

Visitors exploring NMWA’s third-floor galleries may find themselves near two similarly shaped sculptures. Artists Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) and Anne Truitt (1921–2004) worked within different art movements but employed a similar column structure in their sculptures. Viewers can compare and contrast elements of the artists’ respective styles. While both works are abstract, it is interesting to investigate the progression from Louise Nevelson’s 1959 Abstract Expressionist work White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast) to Anne Truitt’s 1971 Minimalist take on the column in Summer Dryad.

Louise Nevelson, White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast), 1959; Painted wood, 110 x 15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.; Gift of an anonymous donor; © 2012 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Louise Nevelson, White Column (from Dawn’s Wedding Feast), 1959; Painted wood, 110 x 15 1/2 x 12 1/2 in.; Gift of an anonymous donor; © 2012 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both artists’ works set them apart in primarily male-dominated art movements. Nevelson (b. 1899, Kiev) rose to prominence as an Abstract Expressionist sculptor whose works also included a strong Cubist element. Nevelson developed her signature style of large, monochromatic assemblages to rival the scale of the canvases that many male Abstract Expressionists painted.

As Nevelson began to gain recognition, she was deemed unworthy of the attention by one critic, who stated, “We learned the artist is a woman, in time to check our enthusiasm…otherwise we might have hailed these sculptural expressions as by surely a great figure among moderns.” Nevelson continued to develop her practice, and as the scale of her sculptures grew, so did the respect of critics.

In a response to Abstract Expressionism, the 1960s saw the rise of Minimalism. Abstraction was pushed further into flatness and non-representation. Truitt (b. 1921, Maryland) created her sculptures with the geometric simplicity that characterized Minimalism.

Truitt made the style her own and separated herself from male artists through her use of expressive titles. Unlike most Minimalists, Truitt’s titles reference some level of iconography in her work, but she denies any direct representation, unlike Nevelson’s abstracted wedding figures.

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 inches; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Color plays a key role in each artist’s process. Both Nevelson and Truitt use color to evoke emotion and draw in viewers. However, the artists employ different palettes. Truitt’s works contain bright hues while Nevelson chose to envelop her works in matte shades of white or black.

Before coating Dawn’s Wedding Feast in a serene white, Nevelson primarily worked with black paint to communicate a feeling of enormity. White Column was created as one many sculptures meant to immerse the visitor in a white “wedding” in her installation Dawn’s Wedding Feast, part of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1959 exhibition 16 Americans.

Truitt applies multiple layers of paint to her geometric sculptures, creating clean, smooth surfaces. While her works vary in color, Summer Dryad’s bright green hue calls to mind elements of nature in the warmer seasons.

Visit NMWA and see these sculptures in the museum’s newly reinstalled collection galleries!

—Meghan Masius is the winter/spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.