Ann Purcell: Kali Poem Series


Info: Ann Purcell: Kali Poem Series, Oct 15 - Nov 14, 2020


NEW YORK, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 – Berry Campbell Gallery is pleased to announce an important exhibition curated from Ann Purcell’s “Kali Poem” series.  For Purcell, the desire to achieve more spontaneity led to this series, which she started in 1983 and is ongoing.  She notes: “For the first time in my work, it was not out of joy, but from some other place, some other sphere. They just seemed to appear.”

However, Purcell knew they had a meaning, and the answer came to her from a poem: May Sarton’s “The Invocation to Kali,” published in Poetry (1971).  At the time, Purcell had only read six lines of the poem and was not aware of the attribution, which later she discovered was by the acclaimed poet, May Sarton.  In fact, such a hindsight recognition is perfectly in keeping with Sarton’s poem, as the poem is one of process and reckoning. In four sections, the poet and reader examine the human need to destroy. The poem’s fifth section, the “Invocation,” is an entreaty to the Hindu goddess Kali to “be with us,” in order to “bring darkness into light.” For Sarton, it is the power represented by Kali—a goddess with a seemingly terrible form who is a destroyer of evil forces and also a kind protector of the universe—that gives recognition to how we must strive to bring creation out of destruction.[i]  These six lines of the “Invocation” had long lodged in Purcell’s mind: “Help us to be the always hopeful / Gardeners of the spirit / Who know that without darkness / Nothing comes to birth / As without light / Nothing flowers.”  

Since 2013, Berry Campbell Gallery has represented Ann Purcell exclusively.  Purcell is preparing for an upcoming solo exhibition at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and will be included in a group exhibition at the American University at the Katzen Arts Center next year. “Ann Purcell: Kali Poem Series” is on view from October 15, 2020 through November 14, 2020.  The gallery is open with regular fall hours, Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm. 

A nationally recognized artist whose abstract work is represented in museums across the United States, Ann Purcell considers process to be a critical factor in her work. Employing both gestural and analytical approaches in her paintings, collages, and works on paper, she works within tensions of paradox, ambiguity, duality, and contradiction. Her method is related to dance—an important form for her beginning in her childhood—as well as to music, while she draws on her thorough grounding in European and American Expressionist traditions. Art history is also an important source for Purcell; she states that “one of the things that is so wonderful about art is that art history is an endless resource—one cannot consume it all. There are thousands of years of art to mine and find a challenging and supportive foundation for the artist.” In the catalogue for a solo exhibition of Purcell’s work at the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C. (1976), the museum’s chief curator Jane Livingston commended Purcell’s “fluidity with a vast range of idioms.” Livingston stated: “Purcell is among the most disciplined and prolific artists I have encountered: the number of fresh, sometimes startlingly brutal, sometimes exquisitely refined works she manages to create in the continually ongoing process of her production is proportionately remarkable.”[ii]

Purcell was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C. and raised in Arlington, Virginia. She studied independently in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and received her B.A. from the Corcoran College of Art and Design and George Washington University, Washington, D.C., in 1973. She went on to receive her M.A. in Liberal Studies from New York University in 1995. While finishing her degree at the Corcoran, Purcell took a summer course with Washington Color School painter Gene Davis, who became her mentor and lifelong friend. Through Davis, she met Jacob Kainen, who had been Graphic Arts curator at the Smithsonian. Purcell recalls often walking through museums in Washington, D.C. with Davis and Kainen, considering the historical context of works of art and critiquing them. Her development was also shaped by the artist’s colony at Provincetown, Massachusetts. She initially went to the Cape Cod artist’s colony in the summer of 1982 on the recommendation of E. A. Carmean, Jr., then chief curator of twentieth-century art at the National Gallery. In Provincetown, Carmean introduced her to Robert Motherwell, from whose work Purcell has drawn much inspiration. Other sources of influence for Purcell are the cutouts of Matisse and paintings by Helen Frankenthaler and Mark Rothko.

Purcell first exhibited her work in 1971, when she had a solo exhibition at Villa Roma Gallery in San Miguel de Allende. When she showed at the Corcoran in a six-artist show in September 1976, a critic stated: “Ann Purcell may be the one painter here to achieve a personal mood. She draws and paints like an Abstract Expressionist, spreads pigment like a color field painter, uses color like a Darby Bannard or a Richard Diebenkorn, but adds a gentleness all her own.”[iii] In addition to her 1976 solo exhibition at the Corcoran—she has had one-artist shows throughout her career, including two at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York (1980, 1983). She has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, including many organized by museums, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Working in series, Purcell combines a wide range of sources from art history and life, uniting associations and extrapolations. Her “Caravan Series” evoke journeys, as well as “finding new things, places of influence, buying old things, ancient histories, and open discoveries.” The series was inspired by Purcell’s summers in Provincetown in the early 1980s. In the August, 1984 issue of The Advocate Summer Guide, Purcell told Margaret Seaver that she had finally found “the mystical, paradoxical space” that she aimed to illustrate in her paintings from the landscape, culture, and light of Provincetown. “I see it in the boats on the bay. They are suspended in the endless and infinite space.”[iv] Other works belong to the “White Space,” “Lagniappe,” “Playground,” and “Kali Poem” series. Whereas the “Lagniappe” works reference a word that entered the English language from Louisiana French, describing small gifts given by merchants to customers for good measure, the “Kali Poem” paintings, featured in this exhibition, emanated from May Sarton’s 1971 poem of invocation to the Hindu goddess.

Throughout Purcell’s career, critics have given recognition to her willingness to explore a range of artistic methods and reconcile seemingly disparate means of expression. In 1976–77, when she was included in Five Plus One, a group exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery, Benjamin Forgey observed in ARTnews that the “light-filled paintings of Ann Purcell, alone among the artists in pursuing a complex, painterly style, are a delightful, sensual explosion.”[v] In 1983, Dan Cameron took note of a few exhibitions of Purcell’s work in an article in Arts magazine. Describing Purcell as “a fervent disciple of modernism,” he remarked on the way she brought together painting and drawing in the collages in her “Playground” series “by manipulating edge, mass, and composition in a single gesture.” Cameron went on to comment that Purcell had extended the “metaphoric velocity of her pieced paintings” into paintings themselves, in which she developed new methods of applying “thin lines, drips, oilstick calligraphy, and controlled skeins of color that act as chromatic splinters.” Observing that within a picture, these elements served to hold the frontal plane in place, Cameron stated how Purcell was able to balance “the stable pictorial structure with a new sense of disorderliness.”[vi] When Purcell exhibited her work at Osuma gallery in 1987, a critic commented that her works were “pure abstractions—Jackson Pollock paint drips accented with the occasional rugged brushstroke of a Franz Kline.”[vii]

Purcell was an prominent teacher of painting, drawing, and art history at the Corcoran College of Art and Design; the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; and Parsons School of Art and Design in New York. She has been a guest lecturer and artist-in-residence at several universities. Her awards include grants from the Hereward Lester Cooke Foundation, National Gallery of Art (1988, for mid-career achievement), the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (1989, 2018), the New York Foundation for the Arts (2013), the Joan Mitchell Foundation (2014), and the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation (2014). Purcell’s work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; the Santa Barbara Museum; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; and the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Christine Berry and Martha Campbell have many parallels in their backgrounds and interests. Both studied art history in college, began their careers in the museum world, and later worked together at a major gallery in midtown Manhattan. Most importantly, however, Berry and Campbell share a curatorial vision.

Both art dealers have developed a strong emphasis on research and networking with artists and scholars. They decided to work together, opening Berry Campbell Gallery in 2013 in the heart of New York's Chelsea art district, at 530 West 24th Street on the ground floor. In 2015, the gallery expanded, doubling its size with an additional 2,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Highlighting a selection of postwar and contemporary artists, the gallery fulfills an important gap in the art world, revealing a depth within American modernism that is just beginning to be understood, encompassing the many artists who were left behind due to race, gender, or geography-beyond such legendary figures as Pollock and de Kooning. Since its inception, the gallery has been especially instrumental in giving women artists long overdue consideration, an effort that museums have only just begun to take up, such as in the 2016 traveling exhibition, Women of Abstract Expressionism, curated by University of Denver professor Gwen F. Chanzit. This show featured work by Perle Fine and Judith Godwin, both represented by Berry Campbell, along with that of Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, and Joan Mitchell. In 2019, Berry Campbell's exhibition, Yvonne Thomas: Windows and Variations (Paintings 1963 - 1965) was reviewed by Roberta Smith for the New York Times, in which Smith wrote that Thomas, "... kept her hand in, adding a fresh directness of touch, and the results give her a place in the still-emerging saga of postwar American abstraction."

In addition to Perle Fine, Judith Godwin, and Yvonne Thomas, artists whose work is represented by the gallery include Edward Avedisian, Walter Darby Bannard, Stanley Boxer, Dan Christensen, Eric Dever, John Goodyear, Ken Greenleaf, Raymond Hendler, Ida Kohlmeyer, Jill Nathanson, John Opper, Stephen Pace, Charlotte Park, William Perehudoff, Ann Purcell, Mike Solomon, Syd Solomon, Albert Stadler, Susan Vecsey, James Walsh, Joyce Weinstein, Frank Wimberley, Larry Zox, and Edward Zutrau. The gallery has helped promote many of these artists' careers in museum shows including that of Bannard at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2018-19); Syd Solomon, in a traveling museum show which culminates at the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota and has been extended through 2021; Stephen Pace at The McCutchan Art Center/Pace Galleries at the University of Southern Indiana (2018) and at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (2019); Vecsey and Mike Solomon at the Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina (2017 and 2019, respectively); and Eric Dever at the Suffolk Community College, Riverhead, New York (2020). In an April 3, 2020 New York Times review of Berry Campbell's exhibition of Ida Kohlmeyer's Cloistered paintings, Roberta Smith stated: “These paintings stunningly sum up a moment when Minimalism was giving way to or being complicated by something more emotionally challenging and implicitly feminine and feminist. They could hang in any museum.”

Collaboration is an important aspect of the gallery. With the widened inquiries and understandings that have resulted from their ongoing discussions about the art world canon, the dealers feel a continual sense of excitement in the discoveries of artists and research still to be made.

Berry Campbell is located in the heart of the Chelsea Art District at 530 West 24th Street, Ground Floor, New York, NY 10011. For further information, contact us at 212.924.2178, or

[i] Kali is associated with Shiva (as his consort, wife, or associate), a god of destruction and creation. She is depicted with either four or ten arms and is usually dark-skinned (black or blue), indicating that she was created from darkness when the creation had yet to occur. Her features include eyes that are red with intoxication and rage, sharp fangs, claw-like hands with long nails, a red tongue that extends outward, and hair flying and disheveled. She is often shown on a battlefield, wearing a garland of human heads, which represent her killing rage but also her creative powers (the heads symbolize the letters of the Sanskrit alphabet and the beginning of language). Many images portray her naked (conveying her purity) and dancing, standing with her right foot on Shiva’s chest, holding a Khadga (a crescent-shaped sword) in each hand as well as a severed head and a cap to collect its blood. See David R. Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1988), pp. 116–31.
[ii] Jane Livingston, Five Washington Artists, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1976).
[iii] Barbara Gold, “Five Plus One at Corcoran,” The Sun (Baltimore), September 26, 1976, p. D8.
[iv] Margaret Seaver, “Ann Purcell, A Self-Assured Artist,” The Summer Advocate (Provincetown, Massachusetts), August 16, 1984.
[v] Benjamin Forgey, “Washington, D.C.: Catching Up with Morris Louis,” Art News (November 1976), p. 104.
[vi]  Dan Cameron, “Ann Purcell,” Arts (November 1983).
[vii] Pamela Kessler, “Four Artists in Search of No Subject,” Washington Post, September 25, 1987, p. WK47.


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