The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Donated to the University of Iowa in 1994, Lil Picard's art and archive are held by the UI Museum of Art and Special Collections, UI Libraries. At the UIMA, Picard's work joins one of the most significant collections of modern art in a university museum and provides yet another example of Iowa's long tradition of support for innovation in the visual arts.

The modern European paintings at the UIMA, which include examples of cubism, expressionism, fauvism, and surrealism, represent various radical pathways that led to abstract expressionism-and coalesced in the museum's pivotal work, Jackson Pollock's uniquely American 1943 painting Mural. Mural, which has been called "the pinnacle of action painting," finds influence and resonance in the collection through other major American works by pioneering artists that include Philip Guston (who taught at the UI), Hans Hofmann, Jess, Frederick Kiesler, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and Miriam Schapiro (a UI alumna).

The Intermedia program, led by artist Hans Breder at the UI School of Art and Art History, early on brought such artists to Iowa City as Nam June Paik and Robert Wilson, and graduated the celebrated artists Charles Ray and Ana Mendieta. The UI's historical commitment to pioneering art production is also evident in the Dada Archive as well as the collection called Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts, both held in the UI Libraries.

The Lil Picard Collection and Papers are a seminal addition to these collections-primary sources for research today-and continue the significant cross-campus tradition of support and recognition for the avant-garde.

Lil Picard, a pioneering artist who played varied and vital- but under-acknowledged-roles in the New York art world during the 1950s, `60s and `70s, receives in this exhibition the first American museum retrospective of her work.

Born in Landau, Germany, in 1899, Picard lived in Berlin and Vienna before she immigrated to New York in 1937. She had begun her career in Berlin as a cabaret actress, accessories designer, and journalist. Forced to relinquish her press credentials because of her Jewish heritage, she escaped Berlin with her second husband, Henry O'Dell, and quickly reestablished herself as an artist-and as the owner of the unique millinery shop De Lil.

Lil Picard's collage paintings and assemblages of the 1940s and `50s combine colorful, thickly layered, active brushstrokes with the detritus of everyday existence: theater tickets, wine bottle and cigarette labels, materials picked up off the street. The works reflect the artist's simultaneous engagement with both the past and the present.

As post-World War II New York became the center of the art world, Picard began to write about New York artists and their work for German and American publications. Through this role she met many artists and grew familiar with the intellectual and aesthetic currents of the time.

An early practitioner of sociopolitical happenings and performance art, Picard was several decades older than other groundbreaking female performance artists. At age 65 she performed publicly for the first time at Café au Go Go. She frequented Andy Warhol's Factory and the Judson Church alternative space in innovative performance art programs produced by Jon Hendricks, and she participated in the nascent performance scene through artist Charlotte Moorman's annual Avant Garde Festivals. Both culturally and politically aware, Picard demonstrated her feminist and antiwar concerns in performances that criticized the Vietnam War and the manipulation of women by media and advertising.

Throughout her career, Picard referred to her own life in her art. Her autobiographical observations and experiences- recorded in personal journals, snapshots, and notes, as well as in drafts, published articles and images of her past work-were all fodder for, and were often incorporated into, her visual and performance art.

By the time of her death in 1994, Lil Picard's work had been featured in 15 solo exhibitions and included in more than 40 group shows. Drawn entirely from the Lil Picard Collection and the Lil Picard Papers at the University of Iowa, Lil Picard and Counterculture New York sheds much- needed light on a remarkable woman whose life spanned a century and her long career devoted to art, performance art, and journalism.

At the end of World War II Lil Picard was an accessories designer and owned De Lil, a shop located first in her apartment at 677 Madison Avenue, then at 26 East 55th Street, and finally The Custom Hat Box at Bloomingdale's department store. Her outrageous hats were featured in all the fashion magazines. Yet even as Picard was catering to those who lived uptown, she was drawn to the excitement and energy of downtown and the so-called New York School of artists. Having been raised in European intellectual and artistic circles, she came to the United States comfortable with a European avant-garde artist's lifestyle of mingling freely with other artists. Berlin's café society celebrated personality, uniqueness of character, talent, and expression. Now Manhattan was the hub of the international art world, and Picard was in her element.


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