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In a 1964 review of the artist’s solo exhibition at Bertha Schaefer

appeal with intellectual insight, turning a lens on men, women,

Gallery, the critic for the New York Herald Tribune lauded Idelle Weber

and modern life. Within the new climate of consumer boom and

(b. 1932) as a “Pop-Sybil.”¹ Indeed, the artist is a great “seer,” a form

concomitant “media explosion,” artists “called attention to the world

of modern day flâneuse, the female counterpart to the nineteenth-

around them—the world that was known, familiar, and part of the

century flâneur who strolls the streets observing the activities of

collective, mass middle of contemporary America—without making

modern city life. Working in a Pop idiom, she explored her milieu

apologies for it or presuming themselves to be outside or above

of the late 1950s and 1960s, tackling themes of gender roles, cor-

it,” as scholar Sidra Stich observed.⁴ In works from this period,

porate culture, mass media, politics, and everyday life.

such as Lever Building 2, Cronies, and Mr. Chrysler, Weber thus

The artist’s involvement in Pop took many forms, including

considers the essential human condition through an exploration of

her participation in significant exhibitions throughout the 1960s.

the formal concerns of art-making and a close observation of the

Among these was “Pop Art USA,” organized by John Coplans for the

rituals of modern life.

Oakland Museum in 1963, which included works by Andy Warhol,

Her subjects are entirely consistent with her surroundings:

James Rosenquist, and Robert Rauschenberg. Weber also exhib-

ordinary people (office workers), politics (references to the Vietnam

ited with Dwan Gallery and at the Guggenheim and the Museum

War and the Kennedy family), and television and Hollywood (a

of Modern Art. Although her work had been displayed in muse-

series after the medical drama Ben Casey; another named after

ums before—William Lieberman chose a piece for an exhibition at

the Wizard of Oz’s Munchkins). The artist based her imagery on

MoMA in 1957 (and Gertrude Mellon purchased that drawing)

photographs she had taken, as well as on clippings from magazines

—these 1960s shows firmly established Weber as a notable figure

and newspapers. Thus even in its process Weber’s art blended a

within the Pop movement. Adding to her reputation were the favor-

careful observation of individuals and mass media “types.” And her

able reviews she received, with critics praising the artist’s “skill and

childhood, spent primarily in Beverly Hills, afforded her a particular

imagination at work,” her “scrupulous” contours, and her “knack . . .

awareness of the broadcast mediums that brought her and her

for the eloquent profile.”² More recently, art by women working in a

generation unprecedented access to entertainment and news.

Pop vein has earned new appreciation; the award-winning “Seductive

Yet the artist’s approach to these subjects is far from straight-

Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958–1968,” at venues including

forward. As one critic discerned, one of Weber’s many talents is

the Brooklyn Museum, featured Weber’s paintings and laminated

the mystery with which she renders her figures and settings: her

plastic forms among its substantial roster of artists.³

silhouettes and collage cut-outs represent an “apt economy, deal-

In her paintings in various media (gouache, tempera, water-

ing as much with felt absence” as they do “with implicit presence.”⁵

color, acrylic, and oil) and collages from the 1960s, Weber depicted

After she moved to New York from Los Angeles in the late 1950s,

figures with her hallmark use of black silhouettes in graphically

the artist explained how she was struck by the different visual

striking compositions. In her work’s hard-edged clarity, bold color,

environments of the two cities; in New York a dark monochromatic

and slick surfaces, the artist shared with her Pop contemporaries

sameness of business clothes predominated, which, along with

an engagement with the rhetoric of commercial imagery that was

the enormous number of workday pedestrians and her interest in

then redefining the postwar landscape. Yet Weber integrated graphic

silhouettes, made the dark figures an appealing choice for her

cover: Step Sisters (detail) 1964 Acrylic on linen, 77 x 70 inches. Signed and dated lower right: “i weber ‘64” Signed, dated, and titled on stretcher verso: “IDELLE WEBER 1964 ‘STEP SISTERS ’”

own work. “People dressed much more formally than they do

Imbued with wit and graphic strength, Idelle Weber’s 1960s

now—at the theater, the movies, in hotel lobbies,” Weber remarked.

work epitomizes Pop’s goals and its enduring appeal. “[T]he original

“There was a sense of airlessness and isolation.”⁶ That uniformity

Pop artists,” critic and historian Lucy Lippard asserted in 1966, “like

in appearance, she noticed, extended to the roles that both men

all innovators before them, have altered the way in which we see

and women played; men went to work and women went to mar-

the world.”⁸ By asking us to look both at and beyond the surface

riage. Thus her images of Brooks Brothers types do not condemn

of corporate and mass culture in the postwar period—its packag-

their wearers—instead, the artist sympathetically observes and

ing, its dress codes, its gender roles, its origins, its promotion via

records those who comply with the expectations of their environ-

broadcast media—Weber’s paintings and cut-outs add a unique

ments. In their lack of detail, however, these silhouettes also sug-

vision to an iconic movement. Yet in considering identity formation,

gest a sense of mystery; they ask viewers to reflect on what exists

mass media, and politics with great intrigue and economy, Weber

behind the shadowy façades.

also presaged the concerns of later artists, among them Kara Walker.

A particular innovation within Weber’s career is her ability

In this she was truly a “Pop-Sybil,” a thoughtful interpreter of the

to deftly combine seemingly incompatible elements, whether a

past, a careful observer of her own time and a prophetic visionary.

centuries-old art form with the visual language of advertising and commercial packaging, or painstakingly hand-drawn patterns with

—R. Sarah Richardson, Hollis Taggart Galleries, and Kirsten Olds,

the use of manufactured materials. By revisiting the concept of

Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Tulsa

the eighteenth-century art form of the silhouette, employing it not as a commissioned portrait of an individual but in the portrayal of more generalized types, the artist transforms and redefines the venerable technique. Silhouette-making was a skill practiced by both women and men, particularly in Britain and the colonies, and sev-

Notes 1 “A Tour of Art Galleries: Idelle Weber,” New York Herald Tribune, 30 May 1964, 5. 2 “A Tour of Art Galleries”; Lawrence Alloway, “Notes on Five New York Painters,” Gallery Notes [Albright-Knox Art Gallery] 26, no. 2 (Autumn 1963): 15; Douglas MacAgy, “City Idyll,” Lugano Review 1, no. 1 (1965): 139.

eral female paper cutters rose to prominence in the eighteenth

3 The eponymous exhibition catalogue, edited by Sid Sachs and Kalliopi Minioudaki

and early nineteenth centuries.⁷ Weber’s use of the technique, as

and published by Abbeville Press and the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, also

well as her interest in textiles, seen in the patterned backgrounds

4 Sidra Stich, Made in U.S.A.: An Americanization in Modern Art, The ‘50s and ‘60s

she designed for pieces such as Thoughts on Alhambra, resonates

(Berkeley: University Art Museum, University of California Berkeley and University of

features Weber’s work.

California Press, 1987), 10.

with similar moves by her contemporaries, such as Jann Haworth

5 Douglas MacAgy, “City Idyll,” Lugano Review 1, no. 1 (1965): 139.

and Patty Mucha, who placed craft practices associated with

6 Weber quoted in Ann Landi, “Who Hails from Hopper?” Art News 97, no. 4 (April

women’s work at the center of their oeuvres. Like Weber’s mod-

7 For more on female silhouette cutters, see R. L. Mégroz, Profile Art Through the Ages:

ernization of the silhouette form, she combined hand-made

The Study of the Use and Significance of Profile and Silhouette from the Stone Age

papers with commercially available ones, choices that signal her

America: A Social History of American Art, 2nd ed. (New York: Thames & Hudson,

keen awareness of the importance of striking a balance between craft and mechanical production, between art of the past and art of the present.

1998): 167.

to Puppet Films (New York: Philosophical Library, 1949); Frances K. Pohl, Framing 2008). 8 Lucy Lippard, “New York Pop,” in Pop Art (New York: Praeger, 1966), 136. Lippard discusses Weber’s art and reproduces the last section of the triptych Munchkins in her book.

Uptown 1964–65 Color-aid paper, tempera, and collage on paper, 6 x 6 inches (image size) Initialed and dated lower right: “IW 65.8”. Titled and dated verso: “’UPTOWN EW 64/65’”

Thoughts on Alhambra 1964 Watercolor and tempera on paper, 14K x 12 inches. Titled, inscribed, and dated lower left: “’ EW—THOUGHTS ON ALHAMBRA EW ‘64” Inscribed, signed, and dated lower right: “© i weber 64”

Pan Am 1960s Tempera on paper, 10 x 7H inches. Signed upper left: “© I Weber” Titled and initialed lower center: “Pan Am © iw”

Wingspan 1965 Collage with Color-aid paper, 18 x 14L inches Inscribed, signed, and dated lower center: “© i weber 65”

Munchkins I, II & III 1964 Acrylic on linen, 72 x 120 inches (triptych)

What’s Going On? 1960s Gouache on paper, 20G x 16 inches. Signed lower left: “i weber” Titled and dated verso: “’WHAT’S GOING ON? EW WC 60’s’”

Cronies 1968 Watercolor, collage, and Color-aid paper, 11 x 16 inches Signed and dated lower left: “© i weber 68”. Titled and dated verso: “’CHRONIES EW 10 68’”

Lever Building 2 1970 Collage and gouache on Color-aid paper, 24H x 18 inches Signed and dated lower left: “i weber ‘70”

Future Ford 1966 Watercolor on paper with silver leaf paint, 7H x 10 inches Signed and dated lower left: “I Weber 66�

TWO Rubys 1964 Gouache and tempera on paper. 12G x 9 inches. Inscribed, initialed, and dated lower left: “© IW 64” Inscribed, titled, and dated verso: “silver gouache, tempera/paper / ‘2 RUBY’S CHECKED OUT EW 64 ’ / tempera/paper”

Everyone Needs a Teddy 1969 Ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches. Initialed lower left: “© IW ”. Dated lower right: “69” Titled, inscribed, and dated verso: “’Everyone Needs a Teddy EW 69’ 12" x 9" ink/paper”

Mr. Chrysler 1970 Collage, 11 x 13 inches. Signed and dated lower right: “i weber 70” Signed, titled, and dated verso: “© i weber / Mr. Chrysler EW 70”

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Profile for Hollis Taggart

Idelle Weber  

Highlights of Idelle Weber's paintings and mixed-media work of the 1960s

Idelle Weber  

Highlights of Idelle Weber's paintings and mixed-media work of the 1960s

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