Eleanore Mikus - Lévy Gorvy

Eleanore Mikus

Eleanore Mikus

Eleanore Mikus (1927–2017) created monochromes whose changing surfaces and inherent tactility contradict the emotionally distanced aesthetic of her Minimalist contemporaries. She often spoke of her works as analogues of a worn shoe heel, weathered pavement, or the surface of a turnstile where passengers hands have accumulatively caused erosion. She approached her works as substrates for records and inscriptions, as reminders for the ephemerality of knowledge and experience. Born in Detroit, Mikus studied art in Germany and Austria, painting in the Abstract Expressionist style. She moved to New York City in 1960, joining the Art Students League and settling into a Lower East Side studio. The following year, she mounted her first solo exhibition at the Pietrantonia Gallery in New York, where she presented geometric paintings on intersected canvases whose borders created formal relationships with the painted surface.

In 1961, Mikus created her first Tablet works, numinous monochromes whose surfaces are coaxed into topographies that catch light and cast shadow. Mikus welcomed chance to dictate form, composing her Tablets in a complex, intuitive process in which roughly sawed pieces of wood were arranged on an uneven surface and glued to a plywood support. Layers of sanded oil paint and sometimes wax resulted in an innate luminosity. That same year, she exhibited two Tablets at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. There, they captured the attention of Ad Reinhardt, who initiated a friendship that lasted until his death in 1967. Presented at the Pace Gallery first in Boston and then New York, Mikus’s Tablets quickly gained wider attention, leading to acquisitions by major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

As a way to communicate the concepts behind the Tablets for her first exhibition at Pace Gallery in Boston in 1963, Mikus made a promotional flyer comprising folded white paper. This became her first Paperfold, inaugurating a series she would continue throughout her career as she experimented with the kinesthetic movement of shadow and light across surfaces. Mikus was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1966. That year, she joined New York City’s Asia Society and embarked on a concentrated study of Eastern art. In 1967, she pursued a master’s degree in art history at the University of Denver, where she completed a thesis on the eighth-century Chinese monochrome painter and poet Wang Wei and his impact on monochromatic literati painting. The following year, she was granted a fellowship at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, where she completed 32 print editions focused on repetition and variation. In 1969, she received a McDowell Fellowship and embarked on a series of bold, figurative paintings that presaged the Neo-Expressionism of the early 1980s, when she herself returned to abstraction.

Mikus began her teaching career at the Cooper Union in New York City in 1971. From 1973 to 1976 she taught at various institutions in England, and in 1979 she began teaching at Cornell University, continuing until her retirement in 1994. She was awarded grants from Cornell University in 1985 and 2001, and she received a Yaddo Grant in drawing and painting in 2004. In 2006, the Drawing Center, New York, presented Eleanore Mikus: From Shell to Skin, featuring 150 works spanning the years from 1959 to 2006. In a review in the New York Times, it was noted that her work has “a still, quiet patience and a devotion to process that can be felt in nearly every work.” A tribute exhibition of her work was organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University in 2017, and Meditations: Eleanore Mikus at Tamarind is currently on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth. Mikus’s works are in prominent public collections including the Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin; Brooklyn Museum; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

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Selected Works

  • ELEANORE MIKUS
    Untitled
    1997
    Ink and acrylic on folded paper
    6 x 4 1/2 inches (15.2 x 11.4 cm)
    Framed Dimensions: 13 x 11 5/8 x 7/8 inches (33 x 29.5 x 2.2 cm)
    © The Eleanore Mikus Estate

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  • ELEANORE MIKUS
    Tablet 113
    1968
    epoxy on wood
    25 x 19 1/2 inches (63.5 x 49.5 cm)
    © The Eleanore Mikus Estate

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  • ELEANORE MIKUS
    Untitled
    1968
    Handfolded inomache nacre vellum 11 1/2 x 11 1/2
    inches (29.2 x 29.2 cm)
    © The Eleanore Mikus Estate

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  • ELEANORE MIKUS
    Jupiter
    2002
    Ink on handfolded paper
    28 x 40 inches (71.1 x 101.6 cm)
    © The Eleanore Mikus Estate

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  • ELEANORE MIKUS
    Tablet 1
    1961
    Oil on grooved plywood
    42 x 42 inches (106.7 x 106.7 cm)
    © The Eleanore Mikus Estate

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Exhibitions

Selected Press

BLAKE GOPNIK on art | AT LEVY GORVY, ELEANORE MIKUS LAYS DOWN A CHALLENGE TO HIERARCHY

June 1, 2021

THE DAILY PIC is “Tablet 1,” a 1961 work by Eleanore Mikus (1927–2017) that I saw in her current …

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