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NY, NY No. X 1948 is an oil painting by the Romanian-American artist Hedda Sterne. It shows a semi-abstract mass of lines and planes that appear to depict rooftops, walls, fences, ladders, fire escapes, towers, wood panels and other constructions against a bright blue background, the colour of the New York sky of the painting’s title. The blue and brown tones are punctuated by three small vertical bright red strips and several black and white strips, like pedestrian crossings viewed from above. The painting is one of a number of ‘New York, New York’ paintings and is characteristic of Sterne’s work of the late 1940s, when she was exploring her urban environment.
Born in Romania, Sterne fled Europe in 1941 and moved to New York. She stated:
When I came here, I became totally enthralled visually with the United States so I became like a premature pop artist. I started painting my kitchen, the kitchen stove, the bathroom appliances, everything where we lived. Then I went out and I painted Ford cars and the elevators. And then I went to the country and I started painting industrial machines, and then I painted roads. I became visual when I came here.
(Quoted in Krannert Art Museum 2006, p.16.)
In 1947 she made a trip to Vermont where she encountered farm machinery, inspiring a series of paintings she termed ‘anthropographs’ (machines with human qualities). In the early 1950s she expanded her ‘New York, New York’ series, using a spray gun to apply paint to the canvas. Discussing these works, she explained: ‘It is about New York – New York seemed to me at the time like a gigantic carousel in continuous motion – on many levels – lines approaching swiftly and curving back again forming an intricate ballet of reflections and sounds’ (quoted in Krannert Art Museum 2006, p.17).
Sterne’s paintings were included in the exhibition First Papers of Surrealism, curated by the artists Marcel Duchamp and André Breton in New York in 1942. She exhibited at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in New York and was given a solo show by Betty Parsons in 1943. Through Parsons she became friends with the abstract expressionists. Sterne was one of the artists of the New York School known as the ‘Irascibles’, who protested against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s policy on American painting of the 1940s and who were famously photographed for Life magazine in 1951. She is notably the only woman in this picture.
Hedda Sterne: Forty Years, exhibition catalogue, Queens Museum, New York 1985.
Abstrakter Expressionismus in Amerika, exhibition catalogue, Pfalzgalerie Kaiserslautern and Ulmer Museum, Kaiserslautern 2001.
Uninterrupted Flux: Hedda Sterne, A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Krannert Art Museum, Champaign 2006.