As the sole woman in Nina Leen’s 1951 photograph of the “Irascibles” for Life magazine, Sterne is most recognizable for her place in the thick of the Abstract Expressionist milieu, along with her husband Saul Steinberg. But Sterne’s long career included a broad range of approaches to her work and her environment.
Born Hedwig Lindberg in Bucharest, Sterne knew avant-garde artists Victor Brauner and Marcel Janco in Romania; she went one to take art classes at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. In 1930, she moved to Paris and worked both in Fernand Léger’s studio and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. She traveled throughout Europe, painting and sculpting, and in 1938 first showed her work, torn Surrealist-inspired paper pieces she called papiers arrachés et interprétés. Through Jean Arp, Peggy Guggenheim exhibited one of these pieces at her Guggenheim Jeune gallery in London in 1938.
Surrealism as a style continued to be important to Sterne after she left Paris and moved to New York at the outbreak of war in 1941; she circulated with the expatriate community that included Guggenheim and Max Ernst. She quickly began exhibiting at Guggenheim’s
new Art of this Century Gallery, as well as with Betty Parsons. Sterne’s work in the 1940s included assemblages (many were destroyed) and images of domestic life in Romania.
After her machine paintings of the late 1940s and early 1950s, her work included a series of impressions of New York rendered with a spray gun, her large-scale “Vertical-Horizontals” that suggest horizons, the drawings called “Baldanders,” portraits, and geometric paintings.
Sterne’s work is held in most major public collections, including the Whitney Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Menil Collection, among many others.
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