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Betty Parsons

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Artist 50

Betty Parsons Abstract Expressionism

Betty Parsons was an American artist, art dealer, and collector known for her early promotion of Abstract Expressionism.

Abstraction is rarely approached in terms of gender, in fact, it is usually considered to have escaped such constraints. And certainly it has seldom been analyzed in a lesbian perspective. It is a striking fact, however, that just before mid-century in New York, a type of art characterized as heterosexual and male—Abstract Expressionism—and recognized as the major abstraction in its time, appeared to emanate from a gallery run by a lesbian—Betty Parsons.

Disinherited after her divorce, Mrs. Parsons made history on her own. Operating on nothing but her own convictions, she became a legendary art dealer, championing the New York avant-garde in the years after World War II.

Parsons became a painter who went from small landscapes and portraits into a bold, subjective abstraction when she began to make constructions from bits of wood and other materials that washed up on the beach near her home; sometimes the pieces reflected her travels to the Caribbean and abroad.

From 1946 until her death in 1982, Mrs. Parsons ran the Betty Parsons Gallery in Manhattan, which represented leading names in modern American art. She showed work by Abstract Expressionists like Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.

Helen Frankenthaler, the painter, who met Parsons in 1950, said, "Betty and her gallery helped construct the center of the art world. She was one of the last of her breed." "It was the beginning of a great moment in American art that started there at Betty Parsons's," Mr. Castelli said. "For the first time a great original art movement took place in America." This is such an amazing role model


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