The Boca Raton Museum of Art Presents – Sari Dienes: Incidental Nature
“Spirit lives in everything, it has no age, no color, no sex” is the landmark quote by the late artist Sari Dienes (1898-1992) that currently welcomes museumgoers to the Boca Raton Museum of Art. The quote celebrates her legendary life in art and ushers visitors into the new exhibition titled Sari Dienes: Incidental Nature (on view now, through October 22). Her pioneering work in the Mid-Century New York art world exerted an influence upon male peers of the era (including her friends Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg). But like so many women of her time, she was never fully credited. Dienes foreshadowed the Pop Art Movement by more than a decade, and her visionary use of assemblage and found objects was years ahead of the curve. She continually pushed herself, and she pushed her circle of artist friends and collaborators into new forms of artmaking that helped to shape our visual culture. This is the first time a museum in the Southeastern United States has dedicated an entire solo exhibition to the impactful work of Sari Dienes.
“Celebrated as the Doyenne of the American Avant-Garde, Sari Dienes is finally receiving the national acclaim she deserves,” says Irvin Lippman, the Executive Director of the Museum. “Dienes brings to light the tools of perception, and visitors who experience this tour de force at the Boca Raton Museum of Art will find an imaginative panorama of art.” Three core elements of Dienes’ six decades of artmaking are featured: her 1950s street rubbings, works inspired by her time in Japan, and portraits of her famous circle of artists.
Most of the works in this exhibition are from the Sari Dienes Foundation (saridienes.org). The Foundation’s Curator/Artistic Director, Barbara Pollitt, worked closely with the Museum on this endeavor and she is the creator of the video Sari Dienes: A Life in Art (youtu.be/qKUr-l-EbJ0). The exhibition is curated by Kelli Bodle, the Associate Curator of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. This exhibition features more than 50 works by Dienes, plus ephemera including a Polaroid portrait by Andy Warhol. Her deep roots in the New York art scene are unparalleled, and extended throughout the 1940s, 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s – learn more at this recent chronology of her life as a New York artist: whitehotmagazine.com/articles/museum-show-for-sari-dienes/5895.
Dienes was a descendant of Eastern European royalty, (born in Debrecen, Austria-Hungary) and her stature in the art world stretches back to the 1930s in Paris and London. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1939 at the age of 41. Dienes was an original member of the Neo-Dada movement of the 50s and 60s. During a career spanning six decades, she worked in a wide range of media, creating paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, ceramics, textile designs, sets and costumes for theatre and dance, sound-art installations, mixed-media environments, music, and performance art. In her large-scale “Sidewalk Rubbings” of the 1950s and 1960s she created bold, graphic, geometrical compositions, via impressions of manhole covers, subway gratings, and other elements of the urban streetscape. This she did often in the middle of the night to avoid pedestrians, accompanied by some of Manhattan’s most famous artist friends who helped her stretch her 30-foot-long fabric onto the sidewalk. Dienes lived and worked alongside a stellar circle, including Yoko Ono, the composer John Cage, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek, as well as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. A portion of this exhibition features her portraits and rubbings of some of her famous artist friends, including a large portrait of John Cage and bodily rubbings of Ray Johnson’s arm.
Dienes was known for making the exterior world her canvas, taking her materials out of the studio and into the streets. This central idea to her work, of making the outside world her canvas, stemmed from Zen Buddhist philosophy, which she absorbed during her sojourn to Japan (a selection of works created in Japan are on view in this new exhibition). She also created rubbings from ancient rock carvings known as petroglyphs.
Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others. Her art is in the permanent collections of many of the world’s leading institutions, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC); Centre National des Arts Plastiques (France); Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of Modern Art New York; Virginia Museum of Fine Art; and the Brooklyn Museum, among others (see more at saridienes.org/life/exhibitions). One of the signature works in this exhibition in Boca Raton is from the collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody.
One of Dienes’ other quotes – “My definition of an artist is … just a human being, only more so” – is often used by scholars to encapsulate her boundless energy and spirit. Read the comprehensive piece by Mark Bloch for a more detailed, career timeline that emphasizes the artist’s deep influence on the New York art scene, at whitehotmagazine.com/articles/museum-show-for-sari-dienes/5895.
About the Museum
Founded by artists, the Boca Raton Museum of Art was established in 1950 as the Art Guild of Boca Raton. The organization has grown, now in its eighth decade, to encompass a Museum, Art School, and Sculpture Garden. As one of South Florida’s leading cultural landmarks, the Museum provides educational programs and a robust exhibition schedule to the community, and to visitors from around the world.