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!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • 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.