JUDITH GODWIN: NOW WE’RE READY
Some critics think that some curators need to put more women in the mix when they do their big modernist shows, especially for the earlier decades of the century prior to the feminist movement. Museums don’t like to be held to a quota, of course, and besides, they glance around and claim not to see the talent. Or so it seems. And nothing changes.
Well, if the critics or curators visit Spanierman Modern on East 58th Street, they can take a look at Judith Godwin’s Echoes, No. 2 (1954), a smallish and dense abstraction of bold red and blue strokes whose movements could well echo those of Martha Graham, a friend and mentor to the artist since their meeting in New York in the 1950s. The slow-moving museum, perhaps less avid to fill the lacunae in its collection than one might wish, would be too late in any case, however, since the picture is already sold.
Godwin does not have a painting in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, but perhaps she has other paintings from this period in her Greenwich Village studio.
A Virginia blueblood, Godwin has been living and working in the Village since 1953, when her parents dropped her off at the Barbizon Hotel, a genteel residence for young ladies, from which she promptly absented herself in favor of the bohemian life downtown. She was part of it all, studying with Hans Hofmann, sharing a studio with Franz Kline, showing with the Stable Gallery and Betty Parsons. Period photographs (in the Spanierman catalogue) show a tough, handsome lady -- Godwin is gay -- who could be the real-life version of beatnik characters played by Audrey or Katherine Hepburn.
It’s been years since she last showed in New York, though in 2009 she did have an exhibition of her abstractions from the 1950s and ‘60s at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. The pictures at Spanierman carry the spirit of the New York School through to the present. They have the muscularity of Kline and Hofmann, as well as the color wingspan of Helen Frankenthaler, the jagged-edged voids of Clyfford Still and the stately architectonics of Robert Motherwell.
Godwin’s canvases have a quality of rupture and brutality, too, that seems very contemporary. They shed the chains of what Hedda Sterne called the "logo" style, and resist that Ab-Ex period Zen design that has now turned into kitsch. It breaks apart, and it holds together. It’s the whole of an artist’s life, a world of the studio that is easily seen but only rarely lived.
Judith Godwin, "Paintings 1954-2002," Nov. 30-Dec. 30, 2010, at Spanierman Modern, 53 East 58th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022. The paintings are selling fast; prices range from $12,000 to $70,000.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.