Sonja Sekula has not been fully recognized for her active role and unique voice within the seminal art movements of the mid-20th century while many of her male counterparts gained wide notoriety during their lifetime. She was born in Lucerne, Switzerland, to a Hungarian father and Swiss mother. In 1936, the family moved to New York, where at the age of eighteen Sekula began her studies in art, philosophy and literature at Sarah Lawrence College. In 1941, she also attended the Art Students League and studied under Morris Kantor and Raphael Soyer. In her mid-twenties, Sekula was heavily involved with the New York surrealists (briefly sharing an apartment on 56th Street with André Breton), as well as the emerging group of abstract expressionists—among her friends and collaborators were Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. Sekula had several one-person exhibitions at Betty Parsons gallery from 1948–1960 and was included in exhibitions at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of This Century. Like her contemporaries, Sekula’s work at this time was heavily influenced by American Indian culture, mythologies, and visual motifs.
Her works in the 1940’s were an amalgamation of biomorphic forms, “primitive” figuration, with painterly European modernism. In the 1950’s and early 60’s Sekula began to develop an unconstrained personal style. During this period her works employed an automatic and lyrical form of mark making that related most closely to avant-garde music and prevailing modes of composition. Sekula was acquainted with John Cage, Morton Feldman, and designed costumes for Merce Cunningham. Sonja Sekula’s style expressed a poignant emotional quality that perhaps alluded to her internal life. The poetic titles of her works, such as “The heart is a bit sad” and “one of these rare hours” are written directly on the surface of the paintings and works on paper, opening a window into the artist’s fragile psychological state. Sekula was in and out of mental institutions throughout adulthood—sadly leading to her taking her own life in 1963 at the age of 45 in Zurich.
Sonja Sekula was born in 1918 in Lucerne and died in 1963 in Zurich. Selected solo exhibitions include: Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland (2016) Swiss Institute, New York, NY (1996); Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (1996); Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY ( 1948-1952); Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century (1946); Group exhibitions include: NO EXIT, Peter Blum Gallery, New York, NY(2017); Pennsylvania Acadamy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA (2011); Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland (2010; Dunkelschwestern, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland (2008); Kunstmuseum Winterthur (1995); The Whitney Museum, New York, NY (1956); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (1954); The Art Institute of Chicago (1952); San Francsisco Museum of Art (1952); The Brooklyn Museum (1949, 1951); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1950).
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