Betty Parsons

19001982 | New York, United States

American painter and gallerist.

Born to a well-off industrial family in New York, Betty Bierne Pierson discovered modern art at the age of 13 while visiting the Armory Show, an international exhibition of European avant-garde painting. After her first marriage of three years to Schuyler Livingston Parsons, a wealthy New York heir, she lived in Paris from 1924 to 1933 with the British painter Adge Baker, where she studied sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. She had to return to the United States for financial reasons, and she taught art for several months in Hollywood while leading a hectic social life. She developed a liking for the work of a gallerist while working with Alan D. Gursin at the Midtown Gallery in New York starting in 1935. She then worked for art collector, philanthropist and cofounder of the Museum of Modern Art, Mary Quinn Sullivan (1877-1939), then for the gallery/bookshop Wakefield, and later for the dealer Mortimer Brandt who, after the war, entrusted her with the direction of his new contemporary art department. There she exhibited Arshile Gorky and Ad Reinhardt, two promising abstract artists from the emerging New York generation. In 1946 she took over the exhibition space which then became the Betty Parsons Gallery, the hotspot for American Abstract Expressionism.

Following the lead of Peggy Guggenheim, who closed her New York gallery in 1947, B. Parsons organised exhibitions that brought success to artists Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Herbert Ferber in 1947, and later Jackson Pollock in January 1948. She found their first collectors, influential figures such as Alfred Barr, the director of MoMA. The programming was decided collectively, as the gallery functioned more like a cooperative than a business, which explains the rifts that took place after 1951 between B. Parsons and her artists who signed profitable contracts with other New York dealers. Walter Murch, Richard Tuttle, Ad Reinhardt and Hedda Stern (1910-2011) stayed by her side. Although she is mostly known for her activities as a gallery director, the gallerist always considered herself an artist for whom the sale of other artists’ works was her livelihood. She continued to paint and sculpt until her death.

Julie Verlaine

Translated from French by Katia Porro.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Betty Parsons — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Parsons, Flash, 1975, painted wood, 64.5 x 57.4 x 6.8 cm, IMMA

Betty Parsons — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Parsons, Bright Day, 1966, synthetic polymer acrylic on fabric canvas, 117 x 156.3 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Betty Parsons — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Parsons, Fragments, 1968, gouache on cardboard, 32.6 x 24.7 cm, IMMA

Betty Parsons — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Parsons, Jolly, 1982, wood construction with acrylic, 54.61 x 56.83 x 15.24 cm, Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Betty Parsons — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Betty Parsons, Sailboat, Rockport, undated, gouache and pencil on paper, 22.7 x 30 cm, Smithsonian American Art Museum

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