Rosalyn Drexler (b. 1926) first exhibited with The Pace Gallery in a group show in Boston in 1964. The following year she was included, along with Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann and others, in the First International Girlie Exhibit, a survey of the influence of the “pinup girl” on contemporary art at the recently opened Pace Gallery in New York.
I am the Beautiful Stranger will reexamine the distinct contributions Drexler made as the Pop Art Movement was coalescing. As early as 1960, Drexler was using the icons of Pop Culture as the organizing subject matter of her work. Images of gangster B-movies, tabloid journalism, and pulp detective novels were collaged directly onto the canvases and then entirely “re-painted” to create the kind of graphically transformed and narratively intensified work associated with the great pioneers of art in the early sixties. Drexler went on to hone her technique to powerfully expose society’s raw nerves in her emotionally charged, ambiguous scenes of sex, violence and the isolation of man in the 20th century.
Works on view in I am the Beautiful Stranger include studies and paintings for Men and Machines, a series devoted to the post-war fascination and use of technology, and Is it True What They Say about Dixie? (1966), a portrait of Alabama’s segregationist Sheriff “Bull” Connor and fellow supporters. They also range from the cinematic and psychologically charged Marilyn Pursued by Death (1963) to the simultaneously sunny but corporately bland depiction of Lear Executive (1967). The paintings evoke an era through their style and subject matter but remain current through their broader connection to media and American cultural issues.
In his catalogue essay, Arne Glimcher remarks that “her art is central to the American avant garde’s awakening to popular culture as source material in the creation of a new aesthetic of objectivity after the extremely subjective sensibility of Abstract Expressionism and it’s concept of the sublime…. You had to think about her art. Its imagery was complex and was much harder to immediately recall than her contemporaries, iconic in incident rather than image.”