February 9, 2018
SONIA GECHTOFF (1926–2018)
February 9, 2018


SONIA GECHTOFF (1926–2018)
February 9, 2018

American artist Sonia Gechtoff, whose work was featured in the landmark exhibition “Women in Abstract Expressionism,” organized by the Denver Art Museum in 2016, died on February 1, at the age of ninety-one. An important yet overlooked figure of the Bay Area Abstract Expressionist movement, Gechtoff was known for producing vibrant large-scale works featuring expressive gestural brushstrokes and thickly-applied layers of oil paint.

Born in Philadelphia in 1926, Gechtoff began painting at an early age. Her father artist Leonid Gechtoff, a portraitist who painted former president Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover, encouraged her artmaking since she was the age of five. Gechtoff went on to study at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia (formerly the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art) on a scholarship. Shortly after graduating in 1950, she moved to San Francisco and joined the faculty at the California School of Fine Arts, where she met her future husband, Abstract Expressionist painter James Kelly, who passed away in 2003. While in San Francisco she also met and was influenced by artists Clyfford Still, Hassel Smith, and Elmer Bischoff.

The artist had her first solo show at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1957. She had gained national recognition in 1954, when her work was exhibited in the “Younger American Painters” show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, alongside paintings by Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock. Her work was also featured in the US pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair; “Annual” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1958; the 1958 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh; and the 1961 São Paulo Bienal.

While Gechtoff and her husband permanently moved to New York in 1958, she attributed her success as an artist to the time she spent among the Bay Area arts community. “I felt that they treated me equally, that they weren’t thinking of me as a woman painter, but as another painter,” Gechtoff said. The artist found that the New York art scene was less accepting of women. For Gechtoff, San Francisco was “a very special place.” “I wish it would get more credit,” she said. “You know, people here in New York are so reluctant to admit that anything major went on there.”

More recently Gechtoff was acknowledged for her participation in the groundbreaking “Women of Abstract Expressionism,” curated by Gwen Chanzit. “Sonia always believed in herself and knew her work was extraordinary, even during the many years it was underrecognized,” Chanzit said. “Thankfully, in the last few years, she was able to see interest in her work rekindled, as women Abstract Expressionists are now being reexamined.”

Gechtoff’s work can be found in the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Oakland Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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