Elizabeth Murray died

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Elizabeth Murray painting and people
Photo of Elizabeth Murray work from her 2005 MoMA retrospective. Photo by Roberta

The highlight of the Elizabeth Murray obituary in the New York Times, by Roberta Smith, was this tidbit:

By the fifth grade she was selling erotic drawings to classmates for a quarter.

I point to that as a sort of short hand for what I have to say about her:

I’ve always felt Murray got the art world shaft and the last show I saw of hers was just another example of her getting shafted. Honestly, her work didn’t look as good at MoMA as I had seen it look previously, and I don’t think it was because the work was slight.

To put it another way, Murray’s work was killed by viewers’ assumptions about her and about the relationship of her life to her work. Smith wrote this:

Ms. Murray grew testy when her coffee cups were described as teacups, which she considered dainty. As she remarked to the critic Elizabeth Hess in 1988, “Cézanne painted cups and saucers and apples, and no one assumed he spent a lot of time in the kitchen.

The truth was, there was a lot of sexual play in her work, and a jaunty Pop comics influence. Plus she took the turgid, self-important 3-D painting of Frank Stella and juiced it up with a sense of humor and some content. But since she didn’t project bad-girl vibes or art-world pretentiousness, she was dismissed (although she did win a MacArthur genius grant, so between that and the MoMA solo show, she could not have been dismissed by everyone).

If nothing else, she was important for turning that place between sculpture and painting into something even ordinary people could access. Unfortunately, there are some in the art world who couldn’t.

Thanks to Rob Matthews for sending the alert on this story. Here’s a link to his own, personal take on Murray.

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