As you enter the main space of the gallery the very first thing that demands your attention is a mural-sized triptych with a surprising title: Munchkins I, II & III, 1964. The large horizontal painting with sharp graphic elements contrasted by a minimal palette of whites, yellows and blacks depicts several male silhouettes ascending and descending a series of escalators. Next to it a life-scale black acrylic plexi-glass cut-out silhouette of a girl or a woman jumping a yellow neon rope. This work, whimsical, happy and humorous is titled simply Jump Rope Lady, 1966. Across from that is another canvas with silhouettes of two women in a painting titled Step Sisters, 1964. And suddenly it hits you – these are all anonymous forms that are meant to represent absolutely anyone. All these “people” are a part of Idelle Weber‘s vision of Pop Art, the subject of the current exhibition at this Upper East Side gallery in Manhattan.
In our conversation, Vivian Bullaudy, Director at Hollis Taggart Galleries, mentioned that Idelle Weber’s art was derived from her personal views of the time. In this exhibition of Ms. Weber’s artworks from the 1960’s and 70’s, it was evident that she did not entirely conform to the definition of Pop Art.
She picked subjects that were a departure from pure commercial imagery of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and instead focused on her own experiences and presented the world as she saw it. The current exhibition is a culmination of her keen observations and her interpretation of New York 50+ years ago. Take for example, Press Type Law Firm, 1965-66 that she essentially derived from her observations of the environment her attorney husband worked in. A standard Manhattan office with standard men in standard suits, doing standard tasks… Can’t you see just a character straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s films in Weber’s faceless men?
A conversation with Idelle Weber was an unforgettable experience full of unique stories about her interactions with Mark Rothko, (she babysat for Rothko’s daughter Kate on several occasions and the great painter walked her home each time), the great Ivan Karp (the late founder of the famous OK Harris Gallery in SoHo), and of course Robert Motherwell (then a professor at New York’s Hunter College). In those times, when female artists were very few (a ratio that has not undergone a sea-change even today), Idelle Weber’s memoir of her interaction with Motherwell was insightful. As she recounted the historic encounter, it became instantly clear that there were boundaries set and pre-requisites to be met before a female artist could be a part of the male-dominated art/gallery world. Unfazed, composed and determined, Ms. Weber went on to carve a niche for herself!
There is little doubt as to how iconic her imagery is, and how symbolic it is of the 1960’s. Case in point – the wildly popular Mad Men series on AMC uses a silhouetted icon to represent their main protagonist – Donald Draper, which has an unmistakable Weber-esque quality to it.
Interview transcript on page 2