Though a New York newspaper critic once described Minna Citron's works as more well-known than Andrew Wyeth's, Christiane Hyde Citron, who lectured at the Hillstrom Museum of Art Monday night, was not surprised by gallery guests who knew little or nothing about her late grandmother.
"She worked right along side Pollock and Rothko — but she was a girl," said Christiane Citron, the late artist's scholar and art executor.
Minna Citron was part of the American modern art movement during each stage of her 60-year career as a painter and printmaker.
Christiane Citron co-authored a book about the pioneering abstract expressionist who continued to create art until a few years before her death at age 95. She also worked in collaboration with Juniata College Museum of Art in Pennsylvania to organize the traveling exhibit "Minna Citron The Uncharted Course from Realism to Abstraction."
Gustavus Adolphus is the fifth stop on the show's national tour, a visit requested by the college. The exhibit of 50 small works helps fulfill a Hillstrom Museum of Art mission — to present a more comprehensive history of art in the United States.
"Citron is one of those artists whose works are ripe for rediscovery," said Don Myers, museum director.
The title of the exhibition was derived from an essay by Citron describing the wandering trajectory of her stylistic development and how she allowed her imagery to develop almost unconsciously.
A Brooklynite who grew up living a comfortable life, Citron became dissatisfied with sameness in her world.
"Five days a week, she was in psychoanalysis," Christiane Citron said. "That's when she became interested in exploring the unconscious mind."
After studying New York City's Art Students League, Citron's life was centered at her studio near Union Square in New York. She belonged to the Fourteenth Street School, a group of artists that was an offshoot of the Ashcan School.
Divorce for reasons other than adultery were not legal in New York, so Citron — like her fictional contemporaries in Clare Luce Booth's "The Women" — traveled to Reno. Although her marriage dissolved, Citron kept her former husband's surname.
A series of prints and paintings that poked fun of "house-bound" women brought the artist early recognition. Citron continued to create representational works for a time, including lithographs of colorful characters she had encountered in Nevada. The winner of a WPA art competition during the 1930s, Citron was sent down south to paint murals. Her works were well-received and favorable of Tennessee Valley Authority — First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a guest at a reception in the artist's honor. For a time, the artist's attitude softened from biting satire to patriotic optimism.
"Minna said she was showing (in her murals) the power of the government to do good things," Hyde Citron said.
At the beginning of World War II, when S.W. Hayter moved his Atelier 17 workshop from Paris to New York, Citron was among the printmakers who thrived in its experimental atmosphere.
"She was one of the first artists in New York to absorb the influences of the European avant-garde artists," said Christiane Citron.
A scrapbook of newspaper and national magazine articles about her grandmother is part of Christiane Citron's inheritance. The collection includes an undated clipping about a group show in which Andrew Wyeth made his artistic debut. The article described Minna Citron as the show's prominent artist.
Several paintings and prints by Citron were prize winners. Citron published essays about the meaning of art and about her personal development as an artist and a woman. Throughout her career, she exhibited and lectured internationally. In 1985, her efforts as a feminist and as a mentor were recognized with a lifetime achievement award from the Womens Caucus of the Arts.
In spite of the admiration for her work and her close proximity to the centers of creativity, Citron never received the same amount of recognition given to her male counterparts. Several factors, including a feisty temperament, may have caused Citron's artistic contributions to be neglected.
A short movie about Citron is being shown in the gallery, near the "Uncharted" exhibit. In a filmed conversation with the artist, she describes her unwillingness to cooperate with a famous art dealer's request for identical paintings to be created for 12 clients. Her refusal — "I did that already."
Colleagues cautioned Citron against burning bridges with her supporters, but her decision to make art wasn't about becoming famous.
"I may not know where I am going but I'm sure I am not going to be doing the same thing," Citron told her friends and family.
Christiane Citron's home displays works that were graduation and wedding gifts from her grandmother.
"Minna was a fun but sometimes difficult grandmother. I love to tell stories about her and to talk about her work."
Although Christiane Citron did not exactly follow her grandmother's footprints, she has several connections with the visual arts through non-profits and advocacy groups. And, like her grandmother, she's a groundbreaker. Christiane Citron was among the first group of women to attend Yale University.
If you go What Concurrent exhibits of works by Minna Citron ("The Uncharted Course: From Realism to Abstraction") and Peggy Bacon ("Keeping the Realist Course") Where Hillstrom Museum of Art, Gustavus Adolphus College campus When On display through April 17 Hours 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 1-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. No admission fee to gallery or accompanying events. Note Gallery talk by Jennifer L. Streb, curator of Juniata College Museum of Art in Huntingdon, Pa., will be held 7:30 p.m. on March 3.