The 240-page, fully-illustrated, full-color catalog includes an essay by Westmoreland Chief Curator Barbara Jones and explores the artist’s history and the more than 70 works in the exhibition, spanning 40 years Lee’s career from the 1930s to the 1960s. The exhibit features paintings, drawings, prints, commissioned fabric and pottery designs, and a selection of trade commissions on loan from 58 lenders.
The traveling exhibit, which Jones co-hosted, debuted at Westmoreland on September 26 and will end on January 9.
The selection of books “is wonderful for Doris Lee and for our museum and the three places that will take this exhibit after us,” Jones said. “It’s so fabulous to bring your work back to the public eye.
“I think selecting the book as one of the best art books of 2021 is a vehicle that will really help reinvigorate her style and bring her back to the public eye,” Jones added. “She’s been lost, it seems, for a while, so it’s almost like a resurrection for her work.”
Although one of the most popular and renowned American artists of the mid-twentieth century, Lee’s representative and folk style was eclipse by the growing popularity of abstraction and more serious art themes.
The catalog was the choice of Roberta Smith, New York Times co-chief art critic, who echoed Jones saying the book and exhibit “should begin to end (Lee’s) obscurity.”
The other books on the list were chosen by critics Holland Cotter, Jason Farago, and Siddhartha Mitter.
Jones was interviewed for an article that will appear in The New York Times on January 2.
“It will be a beautiful piece for us and to give more attention to Doris and the exhibit,” Jones said. “It will really benefit sites where this happens after us.”
Other contributors to the catalog were exhibition co-curator Melissa Wolfe, Curator of American Art at the St. Louis Art Museum; John Fagg, professor of American studies at the University of Birmingham, UK; and Tom Wolf, professor of art history at Bard College in New York.
“Melissa did a global essay that covered all of Doris’ work,” Jones said.
Fagg focused on Lee’s sense of humor and history, Wolf explored Lee’s time in the art colony of Woodstock (NY), and Jones wrote about his commercial works. Anne Kraybill, Director / CEO of Richard M. Scaife of Westmoreland, added the foreword.
Vision and logistics
Wolfe had the original vision for the exhibition, having thoroughly researched the artist, Jones said.
“In St. Louis, they didn’t want to do the show, but they said they would release Melissa to write for the catalog,” Jones said.
“Deedee Wigmore and her D. Wigmore Fine Art Gallery in New York City have always wanted to do a Doris Lee exhibit,” Jones said. “Ever since she started managing her job, Deedee knew she had to somehow bring her back from the abyss.”
Wigmore has contacted Jones and former Westmoreland Museum Director / CEO Judy O’Toole about the organization of the exhibit.
“We jumped on it because Judy and I loved Doris’ job. We have two of these in the collection, ”Jones said. “And we’re good at organizing exhibitions – we’ve done that before. ”
Wolfe was acquainted with the artist, while The Westmoreland took care of the logistical organization of the exhibition and the heavy lifting of the catalog.
Jones, who will retire in April, has called his “swan song exhibit” “Simple Pleasures”.
News of the New York Times book pick “came the day after my birthday, so I took it as a late birthday present,” she said. “I was like, oh, how nice of them to do this on my birthday.”
After leaving Westmoreland, “Simple Pleasures” will be presented at the Figge Art Museum Davenport, Iowa, from February 6 to May 8; Vero Beach Museum of Art, Florida, June 5, Sep 5, 18; and Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee, Oct. 30-Jan. 15, 2023.
Copies of the catalog signed by Jones are available in the Westmoreland Museum Shop and on thewestmoreland.org. Register online in advance to see “The Simple Pleasures can also be completed on the website.”