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Art in America: Tenth Street and After, Pat Passlof was a Master of Mid-Century American Paintings

What tangible or visible traces remain, apart from the surviving artworks sitting in museums or private collections, of the hundreds of thousands of artists who have resided in New York over the last century? As far as I can see, not very much. In most of the neighborhoods they once frequented, from SoHo to Williamsburg, studios have been converted into luxury residential units, or entire buildings that used to house artists have been torn down to make way for yet more condo towers. Soon, it seems, the only evidence of the city’s artistic past will be the foundations set up to preserve the legacy of a few individual artists. I’m thinking of institutions like the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation on LaGuardia Place, where midcentury sculptor Chaim Gross (1902–1991) lived and worked, and the Judd Foundation on Spring Street, dedicated to preserving the New York residence of Minimalist Donald Judd (1928–1994) as well as the works he permanently installed in Marfa, Texas. The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, which opened in 2018 on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side, is devoted to conserving and showing the work of Resnick (1917–2004) and Passlof (1928–2011), New York painters who were husband and wife. The foundation is housed in a former synagogue that Resnick occupied for several decades, and its renovation was largely funded by the sale of Passlof’s nearby studio, also a onetime synagogue.In October, the The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation opened its third exhibition, “Pat Passlof: The Brush Is the Finger of the Brain,” a survey of Passlof’s paintings curated by Karen Wilkin. Comprising twenty-six works on three floors, the show efficiently and effectively samples Passlof’s art from 1949 to 2011. Although she showed regularly in New York galleries (in recent decades, primarily at Elizabeth Harris), Passlof often garnered more attention for her active art-scene presence and her associations with other artists than for her own work. Happily, this seems to be changing. In 2017 the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired its first work by Passlof, a ca. 1950 oil on paper that the museum has already shown twice, in “Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction” in 2017 and in the current reinstallation of the collection.

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