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Hedda Sterne

Romanian-American Painter

Hedda Sterne Photo
Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism

Born: August 4, 1910 - Bucharest, Romania

Died: April 8, 2011 - New York City, New York

"Sometimes I react to immediate visible reality and sometimes I am prompted by ideas, but at all times I have been moved, to paraphrase Seamus Heaney, by the music of the way things are...."

Summary of Hedda Sterne

Probably most famous for her inclusion in a 1951 photograph of notable Abstract Expressionists, Hedda Sterne's ceaseless artistic exploration and decades-long output defies the strictures of Abstract Expressionism's definition. A Romanian immigrant steeped in Parisian Surrealism, Sterne created collages inspired by automatic drawing, captured the dynamism and beauty of industrial New York, painted subtle landscape-abstractions, engaged portraiture, and even her version of conceptual art in the 1970s with monumental word paintings. While never conforming to stylistic mandates, Sterne's artistic path touched upon many of the postwar styles but in a way that was quieter, more thoughtful, even stranger than what was expected by critics and the public.

Though happy to remain out of the spotlight, Sterne's wide-ranging artistic practice, her role (for better or for worse) as a female artist, and her dismissal of the art market variously inspired artists like Elaine de Kooning and Grace Hartigan, but her experimentation and artistic legacy remain to be fully realized.

Key Ideas

While there are distinct stylistic groupings of her work, Sterne was always interested in the idea of flux - not just the flux of stylistic change, but the flux of nature, of relationships, of ideas. Within this philosophy, Sterne recognized herself as "one small speck (hardly an atom) in the uninterrupted flux." Much of her work is an attempt to capture this flux in all of its guises.
While she came of artistic age with the Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko and while she showed her work next to theirs, Sterne does not easily fit within the movement. While others homed in on signature styles, Sterne resisted such stylistic constraints, preferring instead to experiment with techniques and styles throughout her life.
With her outlook on life as being a small part of the world, of nature, Sterne shunned egoism of all sort (another reason she does not fit within the annals of Abstract Expressionism). She insisted that her paintings operated by way of reciprocity, that is, that the viewer was necessary for their completion, or rather the viewer entered into a relation with the painting. It is in that relation - not just in the painting or in the viewer - that Sterne felt beauty resided.
Hedda Sterne Photo

Hedda Sterne was born Hedwig Lindenberg on August 4, 1910, in Bucharest, Romania. Her father Simon taught languages and her mother Eugenie was a housewife. Money was tight, but Sterne was in love with reading and escaped into innumerable literary worlds. She read Dostoevsky by age eleven and stayed home for a month to read all of Proust. Though her family was Jewish, they were not religious. Her father was agnostic and her mother, in Sterne's words, "was totally uninterested and indifferent."

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