Art of Ruth Abrams Deserves Second Look

Work of Many Midcentury Women Artists Was Forgotten

Man’s World: Ruth Abrams work stands out, although she received scant recognition in a male-dominated art world. Her painting ‘Orchard Through the Window’ is on display at Yeshiva University Museum.
yeshiva university museum
Man’s World: Ruth Abrams work stands out, although she received scant recognition in a male-dominated art world. Her painting ‘Orchard Through the Window’ is on display at Yeshiva University Museum.

By Jillian Steinhauer

Published August 24, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In the 1940s and ’50s, the New York art world was in thrall to Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko: These were some of the big-name artists, and they made equally big paintings — emotionally charged canvases with curving lines, splotches of paint or oceanic fields of color. There was more than one style, but the work was uniformly dynamic and almost always abstract.

Ruth Abrams
yeshiva university museum
Ruth Abrams

In that art world (as well as the one at large), it was hard to be a woman. Socializing or sleeping with influential men might increase your chances of recognition, but even then success wasn’t guaranteed. It was especially difficult if your paintings were neither oversized nor entirely abstract. You might manage to show your work, but as time passed and art history was written, your name would most probably be forgotten. This is what happened to Ruth Abrams.

A lifelong New Yorker who was married to urban planner Charles Abrams (who founded the New York Housing Authority) from the time she was 19, Abrams painted multicolored canvases that were sometimes figurative, sometimes abstract and sometimes in-between. The Abramses lived in the former house of poet Emma Lazarus, on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, where Abrams held salons and mingled with other Abstract Expressionists. She had her first solo exhibition in 1934, at the ACA Gallery, and went on to have 15 more, but she never achieved major establishment recognition. Nor did that come posthumously; after her death, in 1986, New York University’s Grey Art Gallery held a significant exhibition of her work, but then, for 26 years, nothing. Until now.

Through January 6, 2013, Yeshiva University Museum is exhibiting “Microcosms: Ruth Abrams, Abstract Expressionist,” a small but earnest retrospective that gathers canvases spanning the 1940s through the ’80s. The show is organized by Reba Wulkan, a former Y.U. Museum curator who first encountered Abrams’s art after her death, when the estate’s executor approached the museum. Wulkan wrote her thesis about Abrams, and with this exhibition she aims to revitalize the artist’s reputation and contextualize her work in relation to her contemporaries.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.