This chronology was compiled, edited and published to coincide with the 2005 retrospective of Elizabeth Murray’s work at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
September 6, 1940. Born in Chicago, IL.
I remember something that happened when I was three years old that was fundamental. I was at a nursery school and the teacher sat me down to color with him. He took a big piece of paper and a big red crayon and he started to color, and I watched him go from the corner of the page coloring the whole page red . . . Then I took a piece of paper and the red crayon and I started to color with it, and it didn’t go as fast as it did with him, and I realized there was some kind of challenge there. That was really intriguing to me . . . the physicality of a surface being covered with color . . . There is no question that the physicality of the making is very intense for me. 1
The family resettles in Bloomington, IL
Studies at The Art Institute of Chicago and receives her BFA. Also takes academic courses during the late afternoons and evenings at the University of Chicago.
I learned how to paint figures and landscapes, how to draw and use watercolors. The training was very traditional, but in retrospect I’m glad I had it. I was very determined to learn everything. I wouldn’t miss a class. 2
Attends Mills College, Oakland, CA and receives her MFA. In November 1963, she marries Don Sunseri, a sculptor whom she has met as a student at The Art Institute of Chicago. Makes her first object paintings.
Teaches at Rosary Hill College, Buffalo, New York, a Catholic women’s college.
When I started teaching in Buffalo in 1965, I concentrated on [Claes] Oldenburg, who has been a big influence on me. I loved his fan, hamburger, and car. I worked with wood and cloth; I got an old treadle sewing machine and made things like a huge armchair with a figure in it which I called Daddy Reading the Newspaper. I did an enormous pair of pants with huge shoes. I put motors in the knees so they turned around! 3
My work changed radically because it was very lonely there, just the two of us in this old house. That was Pop art time . . . I was using images more and more, but I got something out of my system, which was very good because I began doing sculpture –these incredible things you just couldn’t get out of the studio, made of plywood and stuffed canvas and things like that. 4
The couple move to New York City in the fall and rent a loft on West 28th Street.
The word being spread was, “Haven’t you heard? Painting is Dead!” I thought, “Oh really? Well, to hell with that. I’m painting.” 5
Birth of son, Dakota. Teaches art at the Dwight School, a private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
For the first time, I realized . . . I was responsible for another life. . . Along with this sense of being able to give love to someone came this incredible anxiety that I really wanted something for myself too. While I couldn’t work the way I wanted to, I realized how much I wanted to be an artist for myself . . . Previously, I took my work for granted; even though I had a full-time job, I could still come home and work at night. With a child, I couldn’t do that anymore. 6
The turning point came for Murray in 1971 when she decided she was tired of “feeling out of it” – that is, to participate more in the ongoing dialogue between artworks that constitutes the most enduring aspect of any art scene… Murray abandoned three dimensional work completely and went out and bought a lot of oil paints for the first time in several years. Changing from acrylic back to oils regrounded her paintings and slowed her down… “The minute I got back into the physicality, I knew I would make some big changes.” … Subject matter became less important, paint more important. – Roberta Smith, 19877
Dakota’s Red (1971–72) is included in the Whitney Annual, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, January 25–March 19. This is Murray’s first of many appearances in this series of exhibitons and her first participation in a major museum show.
Murray and Sunseri separate.
Visiting artist, Wayne State University, Detroit.
Exhibitions: Madame Cezanne series (in the armchair turning on the light) included in the Whitney Biennial, the Whitney Museum of American Art, January 10–March 18.
American Drawings 1963–1973, Whitney Museum of American Art. May 25–July 22.
Visiting instructor, The Art Institute of Chicago .
Begins to exhibit with Paula Cooper Gallery.
Murray’s works were very painterly, each large area of color thickly textured. In three of the five compositions, the canvases were divided diagonally at the meeting of the two color fields. The intensity and careful calculation of her palettes created vibrating activity along this line. On this background, Murray painted small geometric shapes or lines that were purposely misaligned to distort the picture plane. – Ellen Lubell, 19758
Teaches at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Exhibitions: Marilyn Lenkowsky, Elizabeth Murray, John Torreano, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, April 6–May 1
First solo exhibition at the Jared Sable Gallery, Toronto, May 24–June 14
Visiting Instructor, California Institute of Arts, Valenica.
The year was jolting but also strengthening. I felt free, unfettered. Nobody was looking over my shoulder. Artisically, I just let myself go! . . . I don’t think it was an accident that I started shaping canvases at that crisis time in my life. 9
Sees Ron Gorchove’s work in the exhibition Rooms at P.S.1, Long Island City, New York.
Exhibitions: first solo exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, Elizabeth Murray, Recent Paintings, November 2–27.
Her small markings are clearly formed by hand, not with the help of masking tape; and when these markings are connected by large, swooping, spiraling lines of color, her individual touch is made even more evident. Evidence of this kind, along with the minute inflection of her fields of oil paint, insist on an intimacy of gesture and intention, of gesture and the artist’s consciousness of gesturing. The results are paintings which seem to be composed of unusually high specific gravity. – Carter Ratcliff, 197610
In her recent show of nine paintings, a diverse group of shaped and rectangular canvases done over the past year, it looked as if Elizabeth Murray wanted each aspect of her abstraction– surface, color, shape and line– to be as distinct and as full of personality as possible, even to the point where these elements worked against each other. Murray seems to count on the conflict of unlike quslities to give her work its appeal; these paintings, a little like nervous teenagers, are alternately ingratiating and antagonistic, sophisticated and dopey. There’s always some isolated shape or color to like, and usually something which will strike you as mildly offensive or obvious. The abundance of personality makes it look like Murray is working backward from abstraction toward representation, not in terms of imagery per se, but in terms of energy; some shapes seem ready to jump right off the canvas and strut away. – Roberta Smith, 197711
Lecturer, Princeton University, New Jersey.
Exhibitions: Beginner, Desire, and Searchin’ (all 1976) are included in the Whitney Biennial, February 15–April 3. Early Work by Five Contemporary Artists (Ron Gorchov, Murray, Dennis Oppenheim, Dorothea Rockburne, Joel Shapiro), organized by Maria Tucker at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, November 11–December 30.
Instructor, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray: Recent Paintings, Paula Cooper Gallery, October 7 – November 4
Elizabeth Murray’s new paintings seem to polarize people into opposing camps, and they have a way of polarizing the viewer within himself. Their intensity rubs off on you, and you can’t help but feel very strongly about them. It may not even be a matter of liking them or notl they have a force worth reckoning with, and they demand to be taken seriously. Murray seems to have developed her art quite independently, outside any established style, the work gets increasingly idiosyncratic and eccentric in every way, probably to sustain an extremely dynamic level of emotional expensiveness. – Jeff Perrone, 197912
Instructor, School of Visual Arts, New York
Exhibitions: Children Meeting (1978) is included in the Whitney Biennial, February 6–April 8 and is subsequently purchased by the museum.
New Painting/New York: Jake Berthot, Ross Bleckner, Alan Cote, Philip Guston, Elizabeth Murray, Jerry Zenwick, Joseph Zucker, Hayward Gallery, London, May 3–June 17.
American Painting: The Eighties organized by Barbara Rose, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, September 5–October 13.
Elizabeth Murray has described her work as “a release of energy.” It is kicky and bright, with bold eccentric shapes and plenty of action. Swollen blimps are lashed and pierced, but still give the effect of rumbustious life. Colors are marshaled, given instructions but still allowed some outside interests. Murray is a food organizer; she gives the impression that it’s as easy as pi. Sometimes the strain shows; in With (1978) the smile freezes, the witty edge-games grow tedious. Elsewhere, she is a delight. Beginner just copes with a giant foetus, or perhaps a rogue kidney bean, holding it firmly enough in a grey ground and superimposing a sinister squiggle something like a vasectomy diagram. The deep blue bean repels it, but it’s not accident. New York Dawn and Flesh, Earth and Sky crowd their masses, yet the result is a heightened sense of freedom. It’s worth the price of admission to see a witty artust strutting her stuff. – Stuart Morgan, 197913
Meets the poet Bob Holman, whom she will marry on October 22, 1982.
Large Philip Guston retrospective opens on May 16 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; travels to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Denver Art Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Guston dies later in the year.
I saw some shoes in paintings by Guston just before he died and that object just hit me – you know, it has great plastic properties, shoes can get filled up, they can be empty, the idea that shoes get worn out and take you forward or keep you in place. 14
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray, Galerie Mukai, Tokyo, February 15–March 15. Elizabeth Murray Paintings and Pastels, Susanne Hilberry Gallery, Birmingham, Michigan, May 24–June 22.
Exhibitions: Whitney Biennial.
Drawings (solo exhibition), Galerie Mukai, Tokyo, April 16–May15.
Elizabeth Murray: New Paintings, Paula Cooper Gallery, May 2–30.
At the Paula Cooper gallery, there was a fairly substantial looking exhibition of paintings by Elizabeth Murray representing, surprisingly – considering the density of it – a year’s work. These were all large, heavily worked-at paintings each fragmented into a number of shaped parts, and others were in very many small parts, like smashed mirrors. The first painting was in Elizabeth Murray’s familiar style, which is a variation on the ever popular hybrid of Surrealism and geometric abstraction. The zigzags and pushed-out curves are retained in the subsequent paintings as a structural set for some cartoonish imagery – a joke artist’s palette and brushes, Mickey Mouse feet, a joint smouldering in the palm on a Mickey Mouse hand, cartoon smoke, bliplike baby shapes. Where the first work is snappy, the other paintings are extravagantly complicated and ungainly; they also threaten to become sentimental and obscure in places. But maybe all this is just part of the process of raising the odds, shaking up old habits. – Matthew Collings, 198115
Exhibitions: Amerikanische Malerei 1930–1980, Haus der Kunst, Munich, November 14, 1981–January 31, 1982.
Birth of daughter, Sophie.
Receives Walter M. Campana Award from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Exhibitions: Jonathon Borofsky, Michael Hurson, Elizabeth Murray, American Graffiti, Amsterdam, February 20–March 27.
Exhibitions: Small Town (1980) and Painters Progress (1981) are included in the Directions 1983, organized by Phyllis D. Rosenzweig at the Hirshhorn Museum and Scuplture Garden, Washington D.C. March 10–May 15.
Receives American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, New York.
Exhibitions: Five Painters in New York: Brad Davis, Bill Jensen, Elizabeth Murray, Gary Stephan and John Torreano, organized by Richard Armstrong and Richard Marshall at the Whitney Museum of American Art, March 21–June 17.
In assessing the artists indivuslaly, the bottom line is that none of them is as accomplished at this stage as Elizabeth Murray, currently working at the top of her form. . . Her work is ripe for a mid-career museum survey. – Roberta Smith, 198416
Currents: Elizabeth Murray, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, April 10–May 6. An International Survey of Recent Paintings and Sculpture, organized by Kynaston McShine at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, May 17–August 19.
Exhibitions: Children Meeting (1978) is included in American Art since 1970: Painting, Sculpture, and Drawings from the Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art , this exhibition starts at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, California, March 10–April 22, 1984 and travels to: The Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, May 17–July 29; the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, September 29–November 25; The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, January 12–March 3, 1985; and the Center for the Fine Arts, Miami, March 30–May 26.
Birth of daughter Daisy.
Exhibitions: Which Way Out (1984) and Leg (1984) are included in the Whitney Biennial. Guerilla Girls at the Palladium, The Palladium, New York, October 17–November 17.
Receives Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Medal for Painting.
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray: Drawings 1980–1986, Carnegie Mellon University Art Gallery, Pittsburgh, October 25–December 13.
Lecturer, New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, New York (Fall series)
Exhibitions: Paula Cooper Gallery, April 25–May 23.
Elizabeth Murray has put her Humpty Dumpty back together again . . . Indeed, you could say that the encounter between unified structure and destabilizing energy has always been and continues to be Murray’s central theme. . . For immediate purposes, though, form is what is most aggressively foregrounded. The new paintings . . . look like huge slabs of clay. The edges are as much as six or more inches thick and, in places, the pictures are penetrated by deep holes creating the illusion of real, material thickness, while in other places, elements project out from the surface as much as twelve inches or more. – Ken Johnson, 198717
Exhibitions: first retrospective exhibition, Elizabeth Murray: Paintings and Drawings organized by Sue Graze, curator of contemporary art , Dallas Museum of Art, and Kathy Habriech, director, the Albert and Vera List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. Opens at the Dallas Museum of Art, March 1–April 19, 1987; travels to: the Albert and Vera List Visual Arts Center, MIT, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, May 8– June 28; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, July 28–September 20; the Des Moines Art Center, November 10, 1987– January 3, 1988; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, January 31–March 27; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, April 21–June 26.
Trailing the [Eric] Fischl, [David] Salle, and [Julian] Schnabel retrospectives, the Murray survey is glaringly–and, one should think for the Whitney, embarrassingly– out of sequence. An artist of far greater maturity and stature, Murray came of age during the giddy stylistic free-for-all of the ‘70s. Her closest peer is Frank Stella, but while Stella elaborately diagramed the dead end of hardcore formalism – the idea that art is a sort of Nautilus machine for the eye muscle – Murray heralded painting’s desire to get wet again, roll around in pigment, humor, narrative and sex. – Nancy Grimes, 198818
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray, New Work, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, September 14–November 13.
Some critics have patronized the subjects of her paintings because in their view “domestic imagery” or traditional women’s work, is a trivial subject. Murray’s well-known paintings of cups, for instance, are commonly described as “teacups,” much to her annoyance: “It’s as if the cups refer to a bunch of dainty ladies with nothing better to do than sit around and sip tea,” she says. Murray is quick to point out that “Cezanne painted cups and sauces and apples, and no one every assumed he spent a lot of time in the kitchen.” – Elizabeth Hess, 198819
Exhibitions: Jennifer Bartlett, Elizabeth Murray, Eric Fischl, Susan Rothenberg. The Saatchi Collection, London, October 13,1988–February 28,1989.
Elizabeth Murray’s paintings are not only of organic forms, they are organic forms. Like the fluids of [Luce] Irigiray, like the creature in Alien (a mother, it turns out!), the paintings push away the rectangular frame and the picture plane, not in the additive and self-conciously art referential (reverential) manner of Frank Stella, but in a stream of interloping, thrusting and curving sweeps of saturated color–as their subjects, the contents of daily and studio life, are swept off their feet toward abstraction. – Mira Schor, 198920
Exhibitions: High & Low, Modern Art and Popular Culture, organized by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 3, 1990–January 15, 1991.
There is among the new acquisitions at the museum which Mr. Varnedoe views with special enthusiasm a recent and very large painting of two shoes by Elizabeth Murray called Dis Pair. The shoes are those of a very young person, but the monumentality of their treatment lifts the image clear of the nursery. These are heroic shoes, with elements almost of fortress and turret,. They are also shoes that double, almost, as human beings who seem to stalk one another, not quite embracing but quite possibly with that in mind. Between heroism and domesticity, the scales are nicely balanced. Between abstraction and a distilled and heightened figuration, the dialogue is one between equals. To lead a double life of that sort was for many years to be excluded from the modernist canon. But Elizabeth Murray is one of the artists who have proved that that particular taboo has had its day. – John Russel, 199021
Exhibitions: Recent Work by Elizabeth Murray, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, November 17,1991–February 23, 1992.
My paintings are often strange, and sometimes show me a side of myself – a violence and physicality that scares me. It’s not always pleasant or easy. I don’t always like it, and when really I do then it’s a journey. 22
Honorary Doctorate, School of The Art Institute of Chicago.
Member, American Institute of Arts and Letters, New York.
Exhibitons: Paula Cooper Gallery, April 2–29.
I store away words and phrases. One has to toe a fine line between corniness and deepness. Two emotions I consider dangerous are sentiment and nostalgia– both prevalent in our pop culture today. I like to poke the edges of this culture and use words that might seem corny but they are ironic to me and deepen the painting. 23
Larry Aldrich Prize in Contemporary Art. Honorary Degree, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray: New Collaged Constructions, Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl, New York, April 29–May 28.
Exhibitions: Paula Cooper Gallery, March 31–April 23.
Curates the exhibition Artist’s Choice – Elizabeth Murray: Modern Women at The Museum of Modern Art, June 20 – August 22. In the history of the Museum, this was the second exhibition dedicated to women artists.
Joins PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York.
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray: Recent Paintings, PaceWildenstein, 142 Greene Street, New York, May 1–June 20.
Receives John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award.
Instructor, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray: New Paintings, PaceWildenstein, 32 East 27th Street, New York, February 12–March 13.
Exhibitions: Zeitwenden–Ruckblick und Ausblick, Kunstmuseum Bonn, December 4, 1999–June 4, 2000. Travels to: Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna, July 5–October 1, 2000.
Receives an honorary doctorate from the New School University, New York.
Receives National Artist Award, Anderson Rand Art Center, Snowmass Village, Colorado.
Exhibitions: Elizabeth Murray Paintings 1999–2003, PaceWildenstein, 534 West 25thStreet, New York, March 6–April 19.
Elizabeth Murray’s enchanting, tough show of recent paintings and drawings at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea is her best in many years. This marks an important event in the New York art world. Murray has been eminent and beloved hereabouts for a quarter–century, btu she has also been regarded with ambivalence. There are people who don’t always like her stuff as much as they wish they did. (I’m one of them.) Bust the most successful of her paintings assuage all doubts. They are congeries of daffy cartoonish shapes in stretched canvas or jigsawed wood, thickly painted in rich, loud, chafing colors and arrayed on the wall in roughly rectangular layouts. They teem with figurative references to vestigial body parts (fingers, hands, eyes, noses, lips, sex organs); flora (leaves, cacti); fauna (birds, snakes); domestic objects (windows, doors, pieces of furniture, kitchen utensils, handkerchiefs); symbols (arrows, speech balloons, hearts). But the work’s chief impact is augustly formal. . . At times the intensity of Murray’s struggle has seemed too much for its pleasures. A couple of overstrained paintings demonstrate the difficulty of the standards she has set for herself. But the success of so many of the works removes any doubt that what she does is worth doing–especially now that no other variety of contemporary art retains the authority to embarrass it. – Peter Schjedldahl, 200324
A life lived the way Elizabeth Murray paints would be nirvana. Her recent works replace previous three-dimensional constructed canvases, which she evidently has taken about as far as she could, with simpler, airy construction in low relief; ad-hoc jigsaw puzzles freewheeling shapes that lean, nuzzle and jostle each other to make unlikely harmonies of pungent, ravishing color and abstract pattern. Ms. Murray loves to paint. That’s still the bottom line. Her art is about her absorption in this antique endeavor; which she finds deadly serious and ecstatically satisfying. These days, when there is so much facile painting around, it is useful to be reminded that there are still veterans like her, steeped in the medium, its difficulties and pleasures, who work so hard and make such beautiful art. – Michael Kimmelman, 200325
Exhibitions: Splat Boom Pow! The Influence of Comics in Contemporary Art, organized by Associate Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, April 19–June 29, 2003. Travels to: the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, September 17, 2003–January 4, 2004; the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio, January 31–April 4; and the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Hovikodde, Norway, June 17–September 15.
Exhibitions: Truth Justice and the Comics #2 (1990) included in Disparities and Deformations: Our Grotesque organized by Robert Storr, SITE Santa Fe, July 18, 2004–January 9,2005.
Exhibitions: Southern California (1976) included in Contemporary Voices: Works from the UBS Art Collection organized by Ann Temkin at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 4–April 25.