Hedda Sterne (b. 1910)


As the only female member of the infamous and rebellious mid-century group called “The Irascibles”, including notables such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Theodoros Stamos, and Arshile Gorky, Hedda Sterne is known for her divergence from using mediums and forms contemporaneous with the times. She was one of the first to experiment with acrylic spray paint and also the return of the tondo shape to the art market.

The year 1943 marked a landmark year for Sterne as her move to New York was overshadowed by her inclusion in the Art of This Century exhibition, funded by the Guggenheim. It was here where notable dealer Betty Parsons discovered Sterne’s work and gave her a solo exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1943 and it was for this exhibition that Sterne first presented her use of circular canvases to create the Tondo Series. These tondos are mounted on a central axis so the viewer can turn them at will to gain varying perspectives. A pioneer in her use of both medium and form, Sterne used the tondo throughout the balance of her career.

The theme of Sterne’s works during the 1940’s and 1950’s was essentially machine-based, influenced by her early studies in France with Surrealism and abstraction. Some of her early works, including the New York Series from the 1950’s, depicted hurtling trains, derricks, and bridges as though they were looming monsters; an attempt by the artist to portray the pace and power of the big city. Sterne’s use of acrylic spray paint allowed her to echo speed and motion while also discovering that illusion of depth could be achieved without the use of traditional laws of perspective. It was also during this time period that she became associated with the New York School, and as a result began using more primary colors.

Sterne was the only female member of the “Irascibles”, the infamous group who challenged the Metropolitan Museum of Art by protesting a juried exhibition intended to increase the museum's collection of contemporary art. The artists accused the curator and director of loading the jury with critics hostile to "advanced art," particularly Abstract Expressionism.

Sterne’s work is represented in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Whitney, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Selected Solo Exhibitions

Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, 1943, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978,

Selected Group Exhibitions

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1943, 1944, 1945,

Stable Gallery, New York, 1954, 1955

Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, 1947, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1961

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Pennsylvania, 1949, 1950, 1960, 1961, 1964

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1949, 1959

The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1949, 1950, 1957, 1959, 1967

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1950

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1950

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, 1951

CDS Gallery, New York, 1982, 1984, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2004