From the Vault: Audrey Flack

Hannah: Who She Is, 1982, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 84 x 60 1/4 inches

 “I believe that through our art, and through the projection of trancendent imagery, we can mend and heal the planet” – Audrey Flack 

Since the mid 1950s, Audrey Flack has fought for her artistic beliefs and explored new dimensions through her work. A member of New York City artist circles, Flack has experimented with painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, bronze work, and book art, as well as teaching, writing, and public speaking. She started her career as an Abstract Expressionist then gravitated towards Photorealism, becoming perhaps the founder of the movement and the only woman artist associated with its ideas. Her work is included in museums, galleries, and private collections around the world.   

Born in 1931 in a suburb of New York City, Flack knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career in art despite being discouraged by her middle class family. She attended a performing arts high school in New York City which led to her acceptance and subsequent bachelor’s degree in fine art from Yale University in 1952. During her time at Yale, Flack studied Abstract Expressionism under the tutelage of Josef Albers, embracing the movement and style. Flack attended graduate school at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where her work began to shift towards realism. She found it difficult to be recognized as a professional artist and felt she was being treated as a sex object and not taken seriously by her peers, pushing her to create more provocative art. Flack began painting photographic stills from newspapers and magazines, beginning with images of Hitler and other prominent World War II figures. She began her experimentation with Photorealism at least five years before the style became popular, and is thus credited by some art historians as the originator of the movement. Photorealist style dominated her art after 1960 and her contemporaries included Chuck Close and Richard Estes. Flack focused on Spanish vanitas, prominent figures like Marilyn Monroe and President Kennedy, and detailed still lifes of feminine objects. In 1966, Flack became the first female Photorealist to have her work acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. 

Not long after her Photorealist work gained fame, Flack decided to switch mediums and focus on sculptural work. She adopted a more Baroque style, abandoning ties to Photorealism, which she found restricting and methodic. Her sculptures over the past twenty years have praised the strength of women on a monumental scale. 

Audrey Flack has influenced many contemporary artists. Notably, Jeff Koons credits her as the reason for his portrayal of artwork associated to kitsch. She has lectured nationally and internationally on her ideas and artwork and authored numerous books and articles. In 1992, NMWA featured an exhibition of her work, Breaking the Rules: Audrey Flack, A Retrospective 1960–1990, and holds several of her pieces in the collection. 

-Ali Printz is an intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts