Art cuts across time… We can’t live without art. Human beings need art to help them deal with their mortality. — Audrey Flack, in Queen of Hearts
By layering a sumptuous helping of photorealism—drawing, masking, airbrushing—upon an armature of abstract expressionism, Flack worked against the grain of 1970s Conceptualism, giving free rein to maximalist tendencies that were there from the start. “While I was at Yale I was copying the Old Masters secretly… The drive to do realism was always with me.” While studying art at the university she encountered the legendary Bauhaus and Black Mountain College professor Josef Albers—who was also, according to Flack and other women, a serial sexual predator. Flack’s encounter with him “was almost like a masher on the subway when you’re not sure what they’re doing because they’re looking straight ahead.” Nor was Albers’ pedagogy appreciated: “[He] screwed up a couple friends of mine. They were terrific painters and they became ‘square painters.’ ”
Flack took her photography-based practice as far as she could. But the lack of critical respect—her work has been called “painting in ‘drag’,” and that was in a favorable review—and a two-year depression took their toll, and she stopped painting and became a sculptor for thirty years. “I wanted to do public art… My main mission was to put statues of women out there… strong women who women could look up to, who men could look up to.” Among her many commissions, Flack participated in a misbegotten attempt to memorialize the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza (wife of King Charles II) in the early 1990s. The 35-foot statue was to rise on the Queens side of the East River, facing the United Nations. Given the public protest at the time—Portugal’s slave-trade profiteering was cited—the commission was canceled.
In the terrific new documentary QUEEN OF HEARTS—AUDREY FLACK, directed by Deborah Shaffer and co-directed and edited by Rachel Reichman, Flack takes center stage in her studio, creating new work, philosophically holding forth, and shedding much-needed light on an overlooked chapter in the long history of twentieth-century American art.*
QUEEN OF HEARTS—AUDREY FLACK is streaming now. See link below for details.
Directed by Deborah Shaffer; co-directed and edited by Rachel Reichman
*During the heyday of the movement, Flack was the only female photorealist and received zero mentions—to list five random, respected art histories—in Connie Butler and Alexandra Schwartz’s Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Art, Barbara Rose’s American Art Since 1900: Revised and Expanded Edition, Germano Celant’s The American Tornado: Art in Power 1949–2008, Art of the 20th Century (Taschen), and Morgan Falconer’s Painting Beyond Pollock—the latter of which includes a section on photorealism.
Deborah Shaffer and Rachel Reichman, Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack (2019), from top: Audrey Flack, courtesy of Schaffer; Audrey Flack, Wheel of Fortune (Vanitas), 1977–78; Queen of Hearts poster courtesy and © Bacchus Films and Film Movement; Audrey Flack, Marilyn, 1977; Flack, courtesy of the artist. Artwork images © Audrey Flack, courtesy of the artist.