In Memorium: Elizabeth Murray

Elisabeth Murray, Production still © Art21, Inc. 2003

It brings Art21 great sadness to announce that Elizabeth Murray, a featured artist in Season 2 of Art in the Twenty-First Century, passed away yesterday, August 12, at her home in upstate New York. She was 66 years old.

Elizabeth Murray was born in Chicago in 1940. She earned a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California. A pioneer in painting, Murray’s distinctively shaped canvases break with the art-historical tradition of illusionistic space in two-dimensions. Jutting out from the wall and sculptural in form, Murray’s paintings and watercolors playfully blur the line between the painting as an object and the painting as a space for depicting objects. Her still lifes are reminiscent of paintings by masters such as Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse; however, like her entire body of work, Murray’s paintings rejuvenate old art forms. Breathing life into domestic subject matter, Murray’s paintings often include images of cups, drawers, utensils, chairs, and tables. These familiar objects are matched with cartoonish fingers and floating eyeballs—macabre images that are as nightmarish as they are goofy. Taken in as a whole, Murray’s paintings are abstract compositions rendered in bold colors and multiple layers of paint. But the details of the paintings reveal a fascination with dream states and the psychological underbelly of domestic life. The recipient of many awards, Murray received the Skowhegan Medal in Painting in 1986, the Larry Aldrich Prize in Contemporary Art in 1993, and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Award in 1999. Her work is featured in many collections, including the Walker Art Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Museum of Modern Art hosted a major retrospective of Murray’s work when the museum reopened in 2005. She also currently has artwork on view in the current Venice Biennale.

Elizabeth Murray is survived by her husband Bob Holman, the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, their daughters, Sophia Murray Holman and Daisy Murray Holman; her son, Dakota Sunseri of Los Angeles; a sister, Susan Murray Resnick of Taos, N.M.; a brother, Thomas Murray, of St. Marys, Ga.; and two grandchildren.

Read the full New York Times obituary here.

Watch clips from Murray’s Art in the Twenty-First Century segment here.

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