Touring Women of Abstract Expressionism at the Denver Art Museum in 2017, you couldn’t help but wonder if work by Dorothy Hood belonged there. Long associated with the term “under-appreciated,” Hood’s work could have been included in this show which highlighted the overlooked work of a dozen or so female artists.
This month an exhibit in at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston places Hood’s paintings alongside that of the widely-recognized genius of Louis Nevelson.
While there’s no record of Hood and Nevelson ever meeting, the city of Houston did host shows by the artists around the same time in 1969/1970, Hood at the Contemporary Arts Museum and Nevelson at MFAH.
While many North American art museums display work by Nevelson, Hood has remained somewhat obscure. A recent retrospective at the Art Museum of South Texas might have re-established Hood’s standing, but while impactful, that show did not tour.
Every once in a while you do come across an artist who legitimately fits into the unfortunate under-appreciated framework. Often referred to as a “Houston artist” or “Houston modernist,” those terms paint an exceptionally narrow picture of Dorothy Hood’s work.
Born in Bryan, Texas and raised in Houston, Hood spent much of her life as a young adult in Mexico, despite continued efforts by her mother to bring her home. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and took classes at the Arts Student League of New York. She then spent 20 years in Mexico where she befriended Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
A 1941 exhibit of her work at the Gama Gallery in Mexico City inspired a poem by Pablo Neruda, who went on to introduce her to Juan Orozco, who became her mentor.
While her work was well-received in Mexico and shown several times in New York including in a show at the MOMA, her career got into high gear after she returned to Houston in 1961. The 1970 show at the Contemporary was followed by an exhibit at Rice University and later that decade at the McNay in San Antonio.
Dorothy Hood’s works are monumental, powerful, universal and quiet. While her work would engage those by Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, it’s hard to confine Hood’s paintings in the category of abstract expressionism.
While her work has a commanding scale and can be called abstract, unlike typical expressionist works, Hood’s paintings are carefully composed, lack loose brushwork and have considerable depth. They cannot be called energetic or loud. They are quiet and constant. There’s a surrealistic quality to them.
Unlike Hood, Nevelson’s work was widely acclaimed in her lifetime and remains so. Nevelson and Hood share the condition of not fitting neatly into any category. They also draw on larger art movements and come into a personal focus. For that reason, the paring for the MFAH show seems appropriate.
It also seems unlikely the work has ever been displayed together. And while these larger-than-life artists may not have ever met, one can imagine they might have a lot to discuss. That’s no longer possible, but with this welcomed exhibit, we can see what the work has to say. And perhaps bring to Hood some well-deserved appreciation.
Kindred Spirits: Louise Nevelson and Dorothy Hood is on view through February 3rd.
Top: Dorothy Hood Painting at the Art Museum of South Texas