Harvard University

Harvard University Presents Paths to Abstraction: Spirituality in the Work of Three Women Artists

Autumn/Winter 2019 Harvard University In Review – Paths to Abstraction: Spirituality in the Work of Three Women Artists by Ann Braude

Vicci Sperry (1899–1995)

Shortly after the Guggenheim opened its af Klint show in 2018, I heard from friends who had seen it that something about the huge abstract paintings reminded them of works in my home by my grandmother, Vicci Sperry, a little-known second-generation abstract expressionist. At first glance, slight evidence united works of Sperry’s with af Klint’s. The main similarity seemed to be the audacity of an obscure woman to create monumental works of boldly colored abstract art in a scale and medium often associated with masculinity. When I explained that the daring six-by-eight-foot paintings were the creation of my diminutive widowed Jewish grandmother when she was in her 70s, viewers struggled to make sense of the information.

Like af Klint and Rebay, Sperry’s path to abstraction led through religious reinvention. I witnessed steps on that path as a child, watching my grandmother paint and listening to her intermingle thoughts about art and Christian Science, though only after I was old enough to walk to her house by myself. Before that, my rationalist-Jewish parents did not permit me to be alone with her because of her recently adopted religious views. Grandma used to say that she was the best Jew in the family, in spite of being a Christian Scientist, because she read the Bible daily and gave money to Israel.

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