Bowery Gallery Juried Show, an interview with Karen Wilkin

The Bowery Gallery is honored to have Karen Wilkin as the juror for our 27th annual international juried competition. The exhibit will be held July 31- August 18, 2018 in Chelsea, the premier art district in NYC. 

Karen Wilkin  is a New York-based independent curator and art critic specializing in 20th-century modernism.  She is the author of monographs on Stuart Davis, David Smith, Anthony Caro, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler,  Hans Hofmann, Georges Braque,   Paul Cézanne, and Giorgio Morandi.  Wilkin teaches in the Master of Fine Arts program of the New York Studio School. She is the Contributing Editor for Art for the Hudson Review and a regular contributor to The New Criterion, and the Wall Street Journal.

wilkin photo

I’ve followed Wilkin’s writing and attended her lectures at the NYSS for many years; it was a delight to have an opportunity to talk to her for this blog.

Karen Wilkin grew up in New York. When asked about early exposure to art she mentions that her parents knew many artists and writers and were close friends with Adolph Gottlieb and Moses Soyer.  She describes a trip to MOMA for a Matisse show when she was in elementary school as being “very thrilling and exciting”.

catalog to matissse show

Wilkin shares a memory of a Braque painting (a reproduction from the Phillips Collection) hanging over the dining room table at her family’s second home. She said she always looked at it during meals.

a braque.jpg

Braque, Still Life with Grapes and Clarinet

Although it is a Cubist piece and not an easy image for a young person to make sense of, Wilkin studied the shapes in the painting.   And, she remarks, “I thought everyone could see the relationships of these shapes”!  Clearly, at an early age she had a sophisticated eye.

Wilkin studied Art History at Barnard/ Columbia and went to Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship. Early on, teachers and friends said that she should be writing but her response was, “ moi?”  As chief curator at the Edmonton Art Gallery (now Art Gallery of Alberta) artists said to her, “You’re from NY. You have contacts. Why don’t you write about us for an American publication?”  Wilkin recalls “The only contact I had was Brian O’Doherty, the editor of Art in America, whom I knew because he was married to Barbara Novak, with whom I studied at Barnard.” Wilkin’s first writing was published in Art in America magazine and she was on her way.

Karen Wilkin has organized numerous exhibitions both in this country and internationally.  She is always looking at art.  She tries to remain as open as possible when looking at new work and she likes the element of surprise.   She says every now and then something unusual comes along.

Last year Wilkin curated a show of work by artist Fritz Ascher at NYSS. She didn’t know anything about him but when a friend showed Wilkin the work she immediately wanted to do an exhibit.


Fritz Ascher, Four Trees ( Private collection)


ascher_two sunflowers

Fritz Ascher, Two Sunflowers (Private Collection)

Wilkin knew Clement Greenberg for many years and because of her expertise on his writings, his studio practices, and the artists with whom he was closely associated she was asked to contribute the main essay to a catalogue for the Portland Art Museum, Oregon when they acquired the critic’s collection.

The idea of unbroken continuity is a key theme in Clement Greenberg’s writing (“Art of the past and present are seamlessly connected”).

In 2011 Wilkin gave a lecture at the NYSS entitled “Not Reinventing the Wheel: Modernist Masters and the Past”. By way of introduction to this subject she reminds us that Manet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse all copied masters of the past.

Modern artists look to art of the past for their inspiration, too.   Wilkin made special mention of Helen Frankenthaler.

Frankenthaler after manet

Frankenthaler, After Manet


Here is the original Manet painting:

manet fish

Manet,    Fish (Still Life) ,  Art Institute in Chicago


One feature of Wilkin’s writing is her ease in offering references in both art history and current culture which helps the reader to enter into the art.   I loved her description of Graham Nickson’s recent show at Betty Cunningham: “Long Island Beach life as directed by Robert Wilson”.

graham nickson

Graham Nickson, Tracks, 1982-91

…And her comparison of Marsden Hartley’s repeated images of Mount Katahdin, “made in homage to Paul Cezanne’s repeated views of Mont Sainte-Victoire”.  Now one feels a connection to Hartley where perhaps there was ambivalence.

mount k 2

Marsden Hartley,  Mount Katahdin, Autumn, No.1 ( Met Museum)



Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire ( Barnes Collection)

Karen Wilkin is very tuned in to the artistic process.  She mentions the book, The Voices of Silence by Andre Malraux (once assigned reading in art history classes).   Wilkin draws our attention to the chapter called The Creative Process,.  What makes someone an artist: when he is young he is more excited by the visual experience than by what the subject matter is about.

And then there’s James Castle. Wilkin recently curated an outstanding show of his work at NYSS.   He was a self-taught artist in rural Idaho who was profoundly deaf his entire life but created sophisticated paintings of his surroundings (with soot and spit!).  Castle never saw any major art even in reproductions but he had great curiousity and  love for the visual world .james castle

James Castle, Untitled ( Smithsonian American Art Museum)

More Castle images can be seen at



Bowery Gallery Annual Juried Competition is open to applicants working in two-dimensional media. Past jurors have included prominent artists such as William Bailey, Rackstraw Downes, Paul Resika and Joan Snyder, and eminent critics like Jed Perl, David Cohen, and Stephan Westfall.

The deadline for this years juried show is April 20. To learn more, click on this link:



530 West 25th Street, 4th floor

NY, NY   10001

Gallery hours: Tues-Sat 11-6pm. For more information, call 646-230-6655



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s