“What illicit concoction – what matter of inebriation – what absinthe – lured these healthy young men (and more than a handful of women) who had survived the Depression and war to settle for an uncertain future of fly-by-night jobs and illegal living – what possessed them? It couldn’t have been merely making pictures – something no one at the time would take seriously. There must have been something else, something happening to the artist in the studio – something that pleased his very soul… He or she became something of an addict, an art addict.”
– Geoffrey Dorfman, Out of the Picture: Milton Resnick and the New York School
Clemens Kalischer, Elaine de Kooning, Merce Cunningham & William Shrauger perform in The Ruse of the Medusa, 1948. BMCM+AC Permanent Collection.
Certainly many more than a handful of women found themselves drawn to this particular drug, the buzz of the Cedar Tavern, late nights in the studio, gallery openings, and vigorous discussions with their artist friends. Their names may be less familiar to us than that of some of their male counterparts but these women in the shadows helped to define New York as an epicenter for art and put America on the map as a major presence in the global art market. In the case of Elaine de Kooning, her art practice lived alongside her role as an informal manager to her husband and mentor, Willem. As she navigated the galleries of New York, strengthening relationships and contributing the meager funds she earned as a writer/critic, she was building a space for abstract expressionism in the city’s galleries. The same can be said for women like Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler, who pursued their own trajectories as artists while also changing the scene from the inside.
Out of this handful of women, an even smaller group found their way to Black Mountain College. Elaine de Kooning joined her husband Willem for the summer session of 1948, where she quickly and enthusiastically joined the college community by exploring architecture with Buckminster Fuller, dance with Merce Cunningham, and acting with student Arthur Penn. Less impressed with the place was Helen Frankenthaler who got a glimpse of the campus while visiting Clement Greenberg before quickly returning to New York.
During this time period, there was a passionate group of young women who came through Black Mountain College seeking mentorship and the freedom to paint outside of the city. Two of these women were Pat Passlof and Jo Sandman, influential abstract expressionists currently seen in our exhibition Question Everything! The Women of Black Mountain College, through new acquisitions to our permanent collection.
Pat Passlof was born in Georgia but grew up in New York, pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Queens College. She attended the 1948 Summer Institute at Black Mountain College, a summer session now famous for its influential lineup of guest faculty: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, and Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and students including Ruth Asawa, Arthur Penn, and Ray Johnson among many others. The bond that she formed with Willem de Kooning that summer was powerful, and she returned with him on the train to New York to study with him privately for two years. Passlof took to abstract expressionism immediately, initially adopting de Kooning’s architectural painting style and eventually developing her own. She became a lively part of ‘The Club’ of abstract expressionists, starting a meeting group for the younger painters that became so popular the older group felt threatened and took away her keys to the meeting space.
In her later work she sought a balance between abstraction and representation, allowing Passlof to better distinguish her work from de Kooning’s. She claimed she did not feel her work was truly her own until the 1990s. Throughout her life, Passlof was dedicated to painting and became a passionate teacher at schools around New York.
Coinciding with the opening of Question Everything! The Women of Black Mountain College, the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation donated four of Passlof’s paintings to BMCM+AC’s permanent collection.
Learn more about the artist in the catalog for Pat Passlof: Selections 1949-2011, exhibited by BMCM+AC in partnership with the Fine Art Museum of Western Carolina University.
Pat Passlof, Sudbury #2, 1957. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation.
Pat Passlof, Eighth House #18, 2003. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation.
Pat Passlof, Untitled, 1994. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation.
Boston artist Jo Sandman studied at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1951. That summer, Sandman began to venture into collage and develop new painting on burlap, experimenting alongside her BMC contemporaries and developing an approach she has pursued throughout her career. After that summer, she continued her studies with Robert Motherwell and Hans Hoffman in New York where she joined Passlof and others as a member of ‘The Club’ who would informally gather at the legendary Cedar Tavern.
In the decades following, Sandman continued to innovate using recycled and found materials as the base of her collages, paintings, sculpture, and installations. In the 1990s, Sandman began to explore a trajectory in photography. Ever evolving, Jo Sandman is an artist whose work defies the categorizations inhabited by many of the male artists that she worked alongside. While the spotlight may have shifted away from her art in these male-dominated arenas, her body of work represents a dedicated focus and accomplished vision, cementing her place in the ranks of the most innovative artists of the last century.
Sandman’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Rhode Island School of Design, among others. She has received grants from the NEA and the Rockefeller Foundation as well as multiple fellowships and awards for her work. In addition to a robust studio practice, Sandman taught at Wellesley College, The Art Institute of Chicago, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and many other visiting artist posts.
We are proud to share that the artist has recently donated over 60 paintings, works on paper and mixed media artworks to BMCM+AC’s permanent collection.
Jo Sandman, Untitled, n.d. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Artist.
Jo Sandman, Clichy, n.d. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Artist.
Jo Sandman, Berkeley 1, 1954. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Artist.
Jo Sandman, Growth #7, 1954. Oil on canvas. Collection of Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Gift of the Artist.
Pat Passlof: Selections 1948-2011 published by BMCM+AC