Berry Campbell Gallery shining spotlight on overlooked AbEx painter Alice Baber

Alice Baber (b. 1928, Charleston, IL; d. 1982, New York, NY) was an artist, curator, feminist, and world traveler, who lived as both an art world insider and an outsider, never having gained the full acknowledgement she deserved throughout her lifetime. The first large scale exhibition of Alice Baber’s work in over 40 years, Alice Baber: Reverse Infinity (April 18-May 18, 2024) by Berry Campbell Gallery spotlights a long-overlooked Abstract Expressionist and foundational member of New York  City’s Downtown scene.

The exhibition will feature paintings by the artist created between 1960 and  1981 and will be accompanied by a 68-page catalogue authored by independent curator Dan Cameron, marking the first major piece of contemporary scholarship dedicated to Baber’s work.  

Gallerists Christine Berry and Martha Campbell first learned about Baber over a decade ago while pouring over gallery rosters from the Downtown era, pursuing information about every artist listed whose name they did not know. The gallery now holds the largest cache of works from the artist and  has played an instrumental role in the market’s recent surge of interest in Baber, taking her work from just $3k to nearly $700k at auction in November of 2023.  

Featuring thinned-down oils and acrylics that act like watercolors, her paintings convey a spirit of unencumbered whimsy; Baber’s enduring commitment to technique and rigorous explorations of color theory are the foundations of her work. As her career  progressed, her painterly investigations became more intentional, shifting from bold, free-associative  watercolor forms toward a more judicious use of value in works that suggest a more complex, and perhaps even sinister, subtext.  

Although many of the women of Abstract Expressionism have received belated scholarly and critical recognition in recent years, a preponderance of artists from this era remain unrecognized due to age, gender, location, ability, or perceived lack of depth. With Alice Baber: Reverse Infinity, Berry Campbell continues to correct the historical record by facilitating earnest reappraisals of artists whose work  deserves serious critical engagement and positioning within art historical canons. 

About Alice Baber  

Alice Baber, Time of Day, 1966.
Alice Baber, Time of Day, 1966. Courtesy Berry Campbell Gallery New York.

Alice Baber packed tremendous achievements into a life cut short when she died from cancer at age 54. Baber grew up both in Kansas, IL; and Miami, FL; where her family spent winters due to Baber’s poor health. She later recalled that all the days she remembered from her childhood “were in color.”  In 1946, Baber enrolled in Lindenwood College (now Lindenwood University) in St. Charles, Missouri, and transferred to the University of Indiana, Bloomington, in 1948 where she majored in painting and  journalism. Upon graduation, her teacher Alton Pickens insisted she move to New York.    

In 1951, Baber traveled to France, where she studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, Fontainebleau. Subsequently, she moved to Manhattan, settling first in the Chelsea Hotel. She took an active role in  the Downtown art scene, where she became part of The Club (begun in 1949), an informal salon for avant-garde artists, which held performances, panel discussions, and exhibitions in a variety of artist studios. In the mid-1960s, she became one of The Club’s most dedicated leaders along with the noted art historian Irving Sandler, reviving it at a time when it was in decline.  

Along with Wilfrid Zogbaum and Elaine de Kooning, she became a founding member of the March Gallery, a Tenth Street co-operative gallery that hosted her debut solo show in 1958. It was around that time that Baber found her mature style, described by Grace Glueck for The New York Times: “Disks and puffs of pure bright color drift lyrically over a white field toward a gentle vortex.”

Soon after, Baber completed a residency at the Yaddo Colony in Saratoga Springs, NY, then settled in Paris for several years, joining other North American painters, including Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Shirley Jaffe, and Paul Jenkins, comprising a group called École Pacifique. In 1964, she married Jenkins (whom she divorced in 1970), traveling to Japan for their joint exhibition at the Osaka Pinacotheca Museum that same year.

By 1965, Baber had become affiliated with the A. M. Sachs Gallery on 57th Street, where she received critical acclaim in the press.  

Throughout the 1970s, Baber organized exhibitions with the express goal of platforming her fellow women artists, including 1972’s Color Forum at the University of Texas in Austin and Color, Light, and Image at New York City’s Women’s Interart Center, where Baber became a trustee along with artists Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, and the Feminist writer and activist Kate Millett.

By this time, Baber had become active in the Feminist movement by promoting women artists, spurred by the glaring lack of  women’s representation in museums. Women in the Arts, an organization that sought to remedy this  neglect, organized Women Choose Women, held in January 1973 at the New York Cultural Center. The exhibition included paintings and sculpture by one hundred women selected by the women themselves.

In 1974, Baber was the subject of solo shows in New Delhi and Tehran, and in 1976, she embarked on a four-month lecture and exhibition tour of 13 Latin American countries sponsored by the United States Information Agency.

Baber supported herself with writing and teaching throughout her career, working as an art editor for the women’s magazine McCall’s, serving as an artist-in residence in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico’s Tamarind Institute, and teaching painting  at The New School, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Berkeley.  

Baber’s work is held in the collections of four major New York City institutions: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Other museum collections include The Corcoran Gallery of Art  (Washington, D.C.), The National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, D.C.), The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (California), The Osaka National Museum of Art (Japan), The  Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands), The Albertina Museum (Vienna, Austria), and the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi, India). 

About Berry Campbell Gallery  

Christine Berry and Martha Campbell founded Berry Campbell Gallery in 2013 in a 1000 square foot  gallery in Chelsea. Now housed in a custom-built, 9,000 square-foot location on one of Chelsea’s most prestigious blocks, Berry Campbell Gallery has cemented its position among New York City galleries as  a champion of artists historically marginalized due to gender, race, age, and geography.  

Central to Berry and Campbell’s collective vision is a blend of scholarly dedication and enduring desire  to honor their artists’ lives and work. Focusing on a selection of postwar and contemporary artists, the gallery addresses a critical gap in art history, revealing a depth within American Modernism that is only now coming to light. Notably, since its inception, Berry Campbell has elevated the profiles of  postwar Abstract Expressionist women like Bernice Bing, Lynne Drexler, Perle Fine, Judith Godwin, and Ethel Schwabacher, presented alongside a growing roster of contemporary talents such as Nanette Carter, Beverly McIver, and Susan Vecsey, to name a few.  

Situated at 524 W 26th Street, the gallery’s current location boasts 4,500 square feet of exhibition space, including a skylit main gallery, four  smaller galleries, private viewing areas, a library, executive offices, and extensive on-site storage. 

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