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The director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation asked Anna Walinska if he could visit her studio in 1954, but she politely declined. She was too busy, she explained, preparing to travel around Asia. And the Guggenheim could wait, Walinska figured. She left for her six-month trip, saw new things and learned new techniques, but the New York art world wasn’t holding its breath.

“Her commercial future might have been different if she’d chosen to meet with [James Johnson] Sweeney instead of heading to the East,” says Rosina Rubin, Walinska’s niece and steward of her estate. “During her lifetime, she was much more focused on exploration and expression in her work than on its commercial potential.”

Be that as it may, the modernist artist is now seeing renewed attention in her New York hometown. Walinska exhibited there often before her death in 1997, including high-profile solo exhibitions at the Jewish Museum in 1957 and another at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in 1979. However, Rubin says, by the 1970s “the art world was morphing into the art business, and Walinska had little interest in fitting in”.

After her death, solo exhibitions stalled for the painter. Her only notable solo show since was in 2019 at the site of the former Riverside Museum (now the Master Gallery, in the lobby of the Art Deco skyscraper where Walinska kept a studio for many years). But this January, at the Graham Shay 1857 gallery, Walinska had her first solo show at a commercial New York gallery in more than 60 years—the last having been at another Upper East Side gallery, the Monede Gallery in 1961, of shan paper collages she started making after spending months in Burma.

Anna Walinska, Figures in Landcape, 1957

The January exhibition, set to coincide with Master Drawings New York, focused on Walinska’s figure drawings from her time studying under André Lhote in Paris in the late 1920s, and later abstractions. “Midcentury abstraction is very popular right now, the American abstract painters,” Cameron Shay says. Walinska’s abstract works garnered more sales than her figure drawings, perhaps due in part to the growing interest in long-overlooked midcentury women abstract artists.

“People who have never been exposed to her work at all walked in and said the same thing,” Shay says. “Her abstract works are not only non-objective but there is a line to them, a continuous line, that does set her apart and is what she coined ‘calligraphy of line’.”

For the American Art Fair (13-16 May), Graham Shay 1857 is showing Walinska again amid a cross-section of historic and modern American works. Her Paris-era figure drawings will flank an 1899 bronze reduction of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Also on view will be an abstract painting from Walinska’s Holocaust Series of the 1950s and The Picnic (1947), which will be shown alongside an Elaine de Kooning painting of the same era.

“I hope for the ultimate result,” says Shay, “more recognition for her and also admiration for the quality of her work.”

  • The American Art Fair, until 16 May, Bohemian National Hall, New York

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