Williamstown, Mass. – Kay Sage: Serene Surrealist recreates the American artist’s inaugural 1950 exhibition with the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York. One of the few women Surrealists, Kay Sage (1898-1963) achieved notable success during her career. This intimate look at her paintings brings viewers into a dream-like world where, in Sage’s words, things are, “half mechanical, half alive.” The exhibition comprises all twelve of the extant paintings, marking their first showing as a group in over 65 years. Kay Sage: Serene Surrealist is on view at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) from September 20, 2018 through January 13, 2019. A season celebration of WCMA’s fall exhibitions will be held on Thursday, October 18 at 5 pm.
Following successful solo showings at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, Julian Levy Gallery, and the San Francisco Museum of Art from 1940 to 1947, Sage sought representation with Catherine Viviano, an artist-dealer relationship that would last over a decade. The paintings in Sage’s first solo exhibition with Viviano in 1950 demonstrate a shift to diffused light, scaffold-like elements, and subdued colors, qualities for which the artist became best known. Of the original fourteen paintings shown that year, one was destroyed in a fire and one was sold from the exhibition to a private collector and has since gone missing.
In a review from Time magazine, entitled “Serene Surrealist,” Sage is atypically quoted about her work, where she describes The Instant (1949), “The mountain can represent almost anything—a human being, life, the world, any fundamental thing.” The “mountain” is sliced down its center to reveal tightly-woven nests and flowing fabric. It is this notion of “showing what’s inside,” as the artist commented, that embodies the twelve works on display. Pleased with the article in Time, Sage named a painting Page 49 (1950) after the page number on which the review appeared.
“This selection of paintings represents an exciting moment in Sage’s career. The 1950 showing at Catherine Viviano Gallery established the artist’s mature style. She developed a distinct iconographic language, characterized by architectural structures, latticework, drapery, and supernatural light. The twelve works on display are the perfect introduction to Sage’s work,” said guest curator Jessie Sentivan.
The Kay Sage: Serene Surrealist exhibition coincides with the October 16, 2018 release of the Kay Sage Catalogue Raisonné published by Prestel. Encompassing Sage’s entire career, the catalogue features all her known mature works and the latest scholarship on the artist. While her career as a painter was often eclipsed during her lifetime by that of her husband, Yves Tanguy, recent scholarship posits that the influence was mutual and that Sage’s work was distinct from Tanguy’s. An insightful essay explores Sage’s involvement with the Surrealists and her marriage to Tanguy, as a partner and sounding board. A generously illustrated chronology includes personal and archival material that reveals much about her life and practice. The paintings, collages, and works on paper—haunting, evocative, and original—are reproduced, each with comprehensive provenance and exhibition history. Impeccably researched and engagingly written, this monograph brings to life an intrepid and hugely gifted artist whose talent is long overdue for recognition.
“Recreating Sage’s inaugural 1950 exhibition with the Catherine Viviano Gallery allows a new generation to discover the enigmatic work of this important artist,” says Lisa Dorin, Interim Director of the Williams College Museum of Art. “A unique opportunity for students, scholars, artists, and art lovers alike, visitors may view first-hand Sage’s dynamic contributions to the Surrealist art movement, which resonate highly today.”
Sage was born the daughter of a wealthy senator in 1898 in Albany, New York. After her parents divorced early in her childhood, she moved with her mother to San Francisco, taking extended trips to Europe throughout her youth. In 1919, she attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC and upon moving to Rome in 1920, briefly studied at The British School and Scuola Libera delle Belle Arti. In 1936, she had her first exhibition at the Galleria del Milione in Milan. In 1937, Sage moved to Paris where she met many of the artists at the forefront of the Surrealist movement. She became romantically involved with successful Surrealist painter Yves Tanguy, with whom she moved to New York at the onset of World War II. In New York, Sage exhibited her paintings and organized exhibitions of work from Surrealist artists in France. In 1940, she married Tanguy and together they moved to Woodbury, Connecticut where they set up individual studios and continued exhibiting in New York. Upon the death of her husband in 1955, Sage became increasingly reclusive. She continued to paint and published poetry and in 1958, despite deteriorating eyesight, began working with collage. Although she was highly regarded as an artist and continued to exhibit widely with enthusiastic reviews, Sage suffered from depression and in 1963, tragically ended her life.
Jessie Sentivan is an independent art historian and curator. She has held positions at the Williams College Museum of Art and the Arthur Dove Catalogue Raisonné Project, and was a contributing editor of the Hans Hofmann Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings. Sentivan is currently the Project Manager of Catalogue Raisonné for the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.