Acclaimed artist takes fresh look at famous women in Butler exhibit Audrey Flack’s ‘Heroines’



Creative, daring and technically brilliant, the work of Audrey Flack has been celebrated for decades.

Known as a painter, printmaker, sculptor and pioneer in photorealism, Flack has garnered various awards and recognitions during her long career.

Beginning Sunday, Mahoning Valley residents can take a closer look at Flack’s artistic genius when an exhibit titled “Audrey Flack: Heroines” opens at the Butler Institute of American Art.

The exhibit runs through April 10 and features prints and drawings of women who have been neglected or demonized throughout history.

Louis Zona, director of the Butler, said the museum is excited to share Flack’s work.

“When this show was offered to us, we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity,” said Zona. “Audrey Flack is one of America’s best-known artists and was a major figure in the New Realism movement of the 1970s. Over the years, she has continued to be steady in terms of excellence.”

The “Heroines” exhibit spotlights an eclectic ensemble of females – everyone from Marilyn Monroe to St. Teresa to Medusa – and Flack offers fresh interpretations of each personality.

For example, Flack’s “St. Teresa,” a charcoal and pastel on paper, is based upon Bernini’s famous “Saint Teresa of Avila in Ecstasy,” but Flack’s version of the saint is an erotic one, depicting the face of a woman in the throes of sexual ecstasy.

“Flack’s work makes statements that connect to feminism and the sexual revolution,” said Wendy Swick, director of public relations at the Butler.

An open tube of lipstick sketched into the drawing can be interpreted as both a statement on the cosmetics industry or as a phallic symbol.

Flack’s drawing of Marilyn Monroe conveys a sad version of the sex symbol as a 30-something dependent on drugs and alcohol, lost and faded. Unlike glossy, glamorous renditions of the late movie star, Flack’s depiction of Monroe requests sympathy.

Flack’s “Medusa’s Heart,” a charcoal, pastel and gouache on paper, presents a contrary view of the Greek legend commonly thought of as a vile monster. It asks viewers to recall her as the beautiful maiden who was raped by Poseidon, a creature in pain, who became bitter and angry due to the injustice she endured. The drawing shows the profile of a tragic face, grimacing in despair.

Not all of Flack’s subjects are quite as well-known as Monroe or Medusa.

Flack’s drawing “Camille Claudel,” for example, is based on an 1884 photograph of Claudel, who as an 18-year-old artist entered an ill-fated romance with famed sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Rodin would not acknowledge Claudel and forced her to abort their child, which Flack believes caused Claudel to succumb to deep depression. Claudel eventually ended up in a mental institution.

Flack’s interpretation of Claudel departs from that of a mentally unstable female to show her as intelligent, gifted and focused.

“The exhibit is intriguing because she transforms these women from victims into heroines,” said Swick. “It is also interesting because of her style. She has so many pieces inspired by photographs.”

In addition to the upcoming exhibit, Zona said Flack has two works of art that are on permanent display at the Butler – “Baba,” a portrait of an Indian guru, and “Queen Catherine of Braganza,” a 10-foot sculpture of white plaster, which was added to the museum in 2015.

Queen Catherine was born into the House of Braganza, the most senior noble house in Portugal. The Portuguese princess became Queen of England when she married King Charles II in 1662. In America, the New York borough of Queens was named after her.

The Heroines exhibit will be housed near the towering sculpture.

Flack was born in New York in 1931. She has a graduate and an honorary doctorate degree from Cooper Union in New York City and a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Yale University. She also attended New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts where she studied art history.

Her work has been showcased in many prestigious museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.