Miriam Schapiro

(b. 1923)

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(1923– ).

Painter, printmaker, and collage artist. As an innovator in the feminist art and pattern and decoration movements, she holds a central place in the history of 1970s art. Her leadership in promoting women's neglected contributions and in championing ornament contributed to reorienting American art's priorities toward more pluralistic and aesthetically tolerant standards. Born in Toronto, she later lived in New York. There she enrolled in 1941 at Hunter College but after two years transferred to the State University of Iowa (now University of Iowa) in Iowa City. Following graduation in 1945, she stayed on to earn an MA in printmaking the following year and an MFA in painting in 1949. At Iowa she served as Mauricio Lasansky's first studio assistant. Subsequently, she lived for two years in Columbia, Missouri, before returning in 1952 to New York. During the 1950s she painted in an abstract expressionist style, which gave way in the 1960s to hard-edge geometric work. In 1967 she moved to Southern California, where the period's nascent feminism affected her thinking. With Judy Chicago, in 1971 she founded the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. This program, the first of its kind, soon became a hotbed of revisionist thought and woman-centered artistic creativity. Schapiro's reevaluation of women's traditional crafts opened her eyes to decorative expression, leading to her first works of “femmage,” a form of collage incorporating such common domestic materials as lace, buttons, embroidery, and sequins. In 1975 she returned to New York, where she participated enthusiastically in the pattern and decoration movement, while also continuing to promote women's art. She numbered among leaders of the collective that founded the feminist journal Heresies, first published in 1977. Since the late 1970s she has casually mixed elements of stylized representation, abstract decoration, and mixed-media fabrication in generally brightly colored, exuberant works combining the discipline of structure with the pleasure of opulent detail.

In 1946 Schapiro married painter, printmaker, and art critic Paul Brach (1924–2007), then also a student at Iowa. Born in New York, Paul Henry Brach served in the military during World War II and graduated from Iowa in 1948. He received his MFA there two years later. He, too, participated in the abstract expressionist milieu during the 1950s and later gradually simplified his painting toward poetic geometry. In the mid-1970s he initiated an extended series of Southwestern scenes. Subsequently he produced intellectually controlled, masterfully chromatic abstract works that sometimes allude to landscape. Throughout his career he published astute evaluations of fellow artists' work, in his later years primarily in Art in America. Also a teacher throughout his career, he served on the faculty of several institutions before retirement in 1995. At the time of his death, Brach and Schapiro made their home near the eastern end of Long Island, in the Hamptons, where they had previously summered since the 1950s.

Subjects: Art.

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