Jane Kaufman, Artist Who Celebrated Women’s Work, Dies at 83

Jane Kaufman was making minimalist work within the early 1970s, spraying vehicle paint on big canvases. To make certain, the paint was sparkly, so the canvases shimmered — “lyrical abstraction” was how one reviewer described her artwork and that of others doing comparable work — however they had been firmly of their reductive minimalist second. Hilton Kramer of The New York Times authorised, giving Ms. Kaufman a nod as a “new abstractionist” in his principally dismissive evaluation of the Whitney Biennial in 1973.

Then Ms. Kaufman made a pointy flip.

She started stitching and gluing her work, utilizing ornamental supplies like bugle beads, metallic thread and feathers, and using the embroidery and stitching expertise she had been taught by her Russian grandmother. By the tip of the last decade, she was making first luminescent screens and wall hangings, then intricate quilts primarily based on conventional American patterns.

Ms. Kaufman’s “Rhinestone Screen” (1979). She was amongst quite a few artists impressed by patterns and motifs present in North African mosaics, Persian textiles and Japanese kimonos, in addition to by homegrown home crafts like quilting and embroidery.Credit…by way of Jan Albert

In celebrating the so-called ladies’s work of stitching and crafting, she was performing a radical act, thumbing her nostril at the dominant artwork motion of the period.

Ms. Kaufman died on June 2 at her residence in Andes, N.Y. She was 83. Her demise was confirmed by Abby Robinson, a pal.

Ms. Kaufman was not alone in her deal with the ornamental. Artists like Joyce Kozloff and Miriam Schapiro had been impressed, as she was, by patterns and motifs present in North African mosaics, Persian textiles and Japanese kimonos, in addition to by homegrown home crafts like quilting and embroidery. It was feminist artwork, although not all its practitioners had been ladies. (One of the extra distinguished ones, Tony Robbin, is a person.)

The motion got here to be often called Pattern and Decoration. Ms. Kaufman curated its first group present in 1976, at the Alessandra Gallery on Broome Street in Lower Manhattan, and referred to as it “Ten Approaches to the Decorative” (there have been 10 artists). For the exhibition, she contributed small work she hung in pairs, densely striped with sparkly bugle beads.

“The paintings are small because they are not walls, they are for walls,” Ms. Kaufman wrote in her artist’s assertion.

Other galleries, like Holly Solomon in New York, started exhibiting the Pattern and Decoration artists’ work, and it additionally took off in Europe earlier than falling out of favor within the mid-1980s. Decades later, curators would scoop up artists like Ms. Kaufman in a collection of retrospectives, beginning in 2008 at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y.

“It’s funky, funny, fussy, perverse, obsessive, riotous, accumulative, awkward, hypnotic,” Holland Cotter wrote in his evaluation of that present in The Times. The Pattern and Decoration motion, he wrote, was the final real artwork motion of the 20th century, with “weight enough to bring down the great Western Minimalist wall for a while and bring the rest of the world in.”

Ms. Kaufman’s later work, like this embroidered piece from 2010, handled spiritual and social divisions. She was unable to discover a gallery that might present it. Credit…by way of Abby Robinson

Ms. Kaufman was born on May 26, 1938, in New York City. Her father, Herbert Kaufman, was an promoting govt along with his personal agency; her mom, Roslyn, was a homemaker. She earned a B.S. in artwork schooling from New York University in 1960 and an M.F.A. from Hunter College. She taught at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., in 1972, one its first feminine professors. “She was famous for telling her female students, ‘You are all brilliant and you are all going to end up at the Met,’” stated the humanities author Elizabeth Hess, a Bard graduate.

From 1983 to 1991, Ms. Kaufman was an adjunct teacher at the Cooper Union in New York. Her work is within the everlasting collections of the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian Institution. She was a Guggenheim fellow in 1974 and in 1989 acquired a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her “Crystal Hanging,” a glittering sculpture that appears like a meteor bathe, is within the Thomas P. O’Neill Federal Building in Boston.

In 1966 she married Doug Ohlson, an summary painter. The marriage resulted in divorce within the early 1970s.

No speedy relations survive.

While Ms. Kaufman was extraordinarily critical about her work, she was additionally a prankster devoted to political activism; for many years, a pink penis poster she created was featured at marches for abortion rights and different ladies’s points. Its final outing was at the Women’s March in New York City in January 2017.

Ms. Kaufman was a member of the Guerrilla Girls, the art-world agitators who protested the dearth of feminine and minority artists in galleries and museums. Unlike many of the different members, she didn’t use a pseudonym.Credit…Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

She was a member of the Guerrilla Girls, the art-world agitators, all ladies, who protested the dearth of feminine and minority artists in galleries and museums by papering Manhattan buildings at nighttime with impish posters like “The Guerrilla Girls’ Code of Ethics for Art Museums,” which proclaimed, “Thou shalt provide lavish funerals for Women and Artists of Color who thou planeth to exhibit only after their Death” and “Thou shalt keep Curatorial Salaries so low that Curators must be Independently Wealthy, or willing to engage in Insider Trading.”

Membership was by invitation solely, and most members’ names had been a secret (they wore gorilla masks in public). Many Guerrilla Girls used the names of lifeless feminine artists, like Käthe Kollwitz and Frida Kahlo. But Ms. Kaufman didn’t.

“Jane had a wicked sense of humor, the ability to get right to the center of an issue and the courage and principles to confront the powers that be,” the Guerrilla Girl who calls herself Frida Kahlo stated in an announcement. “We will never forget her. We hope that Jane is also remembered as a wonderful artist who tirelessly worked to break down the conventions of ‘craft vs fine art’ and later combined her meticulous handwork with biting political content.”

Ms. Kaufman’s later work, Ms. Hess stated, was as political as her ornamental work had been, and handled spiritual and social divisions. But she was unable to discover a gallery that might present it. An embroidered piece from 2010 introduced, in metallic thread on cutwork velvet, “Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers.”

“She was an artist who floated under the radar,” Ms. Hess stated. “She was underacknowledged, though she had curated the first Pattern and Decoration show. Her work came out of her interest in women’s labor, but I think the real revelation to me about Jane’s work was its sumptuousness and beauty.”

Ms. Kaufman was, a colleague stated, “a wonderful artist who tirelessly worked to break down the conventions of ‘craft vs fine art.’”

In late 2019, a retrospective referred to as “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972 to 1985” opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (it’s now at Bard by way of Nov. 28). Anna Katz, the present’s curator, selected a multicolored velvet quilt by Ms. Kaufman for the exhibition. Inspired by conventional crazy-quilt patterns, Ms. Kaufman had used over 100 conventional stitches, some courting again to the 16th century, within the piece, which she completed in 1985.

Ms. Katz stated the quilt was Ms. Kaufman’s “magnum opus, an acknowledgment of women’s place in art history” that “stands as a redress to the marginalization of women.” Quilting, she famous, is how ladies made artwork — usually collectively and anonymously — for hundreds of years. And for hundreds of years, she stated, “quilts were a highly developed form of abstract art that preceded the so-called invention of abstraction in painting.”

“It was a risk for Jane to make decorative art,” Ms. Katz added. “The term ‘decorative’ was a career killer. It still is. I think her attitude at the time was, this wasn’t the boldest thing she could do; it was the most necessary.”