Born in New Jersey in 1923 as Shirley Sternstein, in 1949, the artist, now Mrs Jaffe, moved to Paris. Following her short marriage to the journalist Irving Jaffe, the painter decided to remain in France. Having soon established herself in the city, she held regular contact with the American “art expats” Norman Bluhm, Sam Francis, and Joan Mitchell, who all relocated to Paris. Her work dating from this period may be attributed to Abstract Expressionism, a form that sought to draw exclusively from its own resources and which consisted primarily of wildly applied fields of colour and gestures. Although, for the art market at the time, this amounted to a success formula Jaffe nevertheless decided to strike out in a different direction.
A Ford Foundation scholarship facilitated her relocation to West Berlin for a year in 1963. Life in the then divided city—a divided world—together with the death of John F. Kennedy in the same year and various other new influences, such as the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, brought a shift in her stylistic direction. She drew inspiration, from the European abstraction of Wassily Kandinsky and of Sophie Taeuber-Arp. Over the course of her stay in Berlin, her colour fields acquired more monochromatic and geometric forms; like Lego pieces or brightly coloured paper snippets, they dance here and there, fluttering through the abstract-expressive passages of her canvases.
Shirley Jaffe kept her completed works on the left side of her Paris appartment and positioned those yet to be finished on the right. They were separated by a space of five metres. This is where the artist lived and worked. From 1969 onwards, she resided in her Paris studio apartment in Rue Saint-Victor, where she remained until her death in 2016. The above-mentioned five-metre space may also be read metaphorically as a space signifying opposites—America and Europe, abstract and geometric, enigmatic yet highly accessible art.
The Kunstmuseum Basel Collection has recently acquired a significant group of works from the artist’s oeuvre. One further reason for rediscovering Shirley Jaffe’s evocative painting and for celebrating this revelation by staging this exceptional and wide-ranging special exhibition. The exhibition was realised in close collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Musée Matisse in Nice.
The exhibition is organized by the Centre Pompidou, Paris in collaboration with the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Musée Matisse, Nice.
The exhibition Shirley Jaffe. An American Woman in Paris was presented at the Centre Pompidou from April 20 to August 29, 2022. The exhibition will take place at the Musée Matisse from October 11, 2023 to January 8, 2024.
Shirley Jaffe was reluctant to talk about herself. Even though there are articles, catalogues, and interviews, the material is especially scarce when it comes to Jaffe as a person. One of the few exceptions is the extensive interview author and curator Avis Berman conducted with the artist for the Archives of American Art (Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC).
The Oral History project builds on this material and takes this approach further by adding a range of outside perspectives. Through conversations with the artist’s friends, family members, art dealers, and other artists who were close to Shirley Jaffe, personal stories and memories were archived for this project that go beyond art historical facts.
The sound collage of the extensive material linked here was made accessible as a half-hour audio installation as part of the exhibition. Listen to the voices and learn more about the artist, her work and her friendships!
Andrew Arnot has been the owner of Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York since 1993. He joined the gallery in 1989 and oversaw a variety of gallery exhibitions and publications. In addition to honoring the gallery's original direction, Arnot has expanded its vision since taking over and refined the program, including exhibiting the works of Shirley Jaffe in the gallery since 2002. The solo exhibitions of Jaffe's work, of which five have already been realized, are among the most significant that Arnot has curated. The exhibitions featuring the works of Sam Francis or Joan Mitchell have also received great recognition, artists with whom Jaffe had contact during her lifetime. He also dedicated a solo booth to Jaffe at the prestigious Art Dealers Association of America fair. The long-standing collaboration has not only led to a fruitful and productive professional exchange but also to a close friendship, with Arnot becoming one of the artist's most loyal supporters.
Aurélia Chevalier studied restoration at the Institut national du patrimoine in Paris. In 2005, she earned her M.A. in art history from Pantheon Sorbonne and ultimately earned her doctorate from Arts et Metiers Paris in 2010. As an independent painting conservator, she works internationally, particularly for French museums such as the Louvre, the Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, or the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Her expertise lies in the restoration of modern and contemporary paintings. With her extensive knowledge of material aging processes, she has overseen works by numerous well-known artists, including Simon Hantaï, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jean Dubuffet, and Shirley Jaffe. The trust that Jaffe placed in Chevalier was evident in the fact that she generally entrusted only Chevalier with the conservation of her works during her lifetime. The artist's estate also collaborates with her.
Nathalie Obadia is a gallerist and founder of the eponymous gallery. After studying law and earning a degree from the Paris Institute of Political Studies, she followed her passion for contemporary art into the gallery world. She worked at Galerie Daniel Templon from 1988 to 1992 before opening her first gallery in the Marais district of Paris in 1993. In 1999, the gallery finally took over the representation of Shirley Jaffe. This collaboration gave the artist financial security for the first time. Today, Galerie Nathalie Obadia, with its locations in Paris and Brussels, is an internationally renowned address and represents numerous other renowned artists such as David Reed, Jessica Stockholder, Robert Kushner, Martin Barré and Sarkis.
Shirley Kaneda is an American artist born in Tokyo in 1951 to Korean parents. She studied art at Parsons School of Design and has lived and worked in New York ever since. Her abstract paintings are characterized by an amalgamation of differing forms and simple geometry rendered in bright colors. In terms of content, she is interested in promoting themes of beauty, fluidity and variation through the “decorative” while demystifying traditional male values such as the heroic, aggressive or the rational. Her works are exhibited in galleries in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Kaneda discovered Shirley Jaffe's work in 1990 at the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York. She immediately appreciated Jaffe's artistic approach. As a contributing editor of BOMB magazine, which focus' on artists’ voices she conducted an interview with Shirley Jaffe in 2004 and later spoke about how Jaffe had influenced her own work. At Kaneda’s solo exhibition at Feigen Contemporary in 2001, Shirley Jaffe's Four Squares Black was shown alongside works by other artists who had inspired Kaneda's artistic development.
Robert Kushner is an American artist and founding member of the Pattern and Decoration movement that emerged in the 1970s. He was born in Pasadena in 1949 and completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of California, San Diego in 1971. His artistic work is characterized by a decorative painting style and the use of various materials and techniques. He often incorporates motifs such as leaves and flowers, as well as geometric shapes and grids. Kushner currently lives and works in New York, where he met Shirley Jaffe in 1975 through a collaboration at the Holly Solomon Gallery. This led to a close friendship, and Kushner acknowledges Jaffe's influence as an important part of his artistic life.
Frédéric Paul is a curator of contemporary art at the MNAM-CCI/Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. In addition to his curatorial work, he regularly writes for the Cahiers du Musée national d'art moderne and has published numerous essays and monographs on artists. Some recent publications include Dorothy Iannone (Manuella, 2019), Barbara Probst (Hartmann Books, 2019), Beatriz Milhazes (Cobogó, 2018), Sarah Morris (August, 2015), and Guy de Cointet (Flammarion, 2014).
Paul first became familiar with Shirley Jaffe's work at the Galerie Jean Fournier in Paris. As a former director of the F.R.A.C. Limousin and later the Domaine de Kerguéhennec, he reached out to Jaffe in the late 1980s to propose an exhibition. The exhibition opened in 1991 at the F.R.A.C. Limousin, leading to a nearly 30-year collaboration and a friendship.
Jerome Sternstein was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1933 as Shirley Jaffe's younger brother. After two years in the American army (1953-1955), Sternstein received a B.A. from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1959 and then entered the graduate school at Brown University. In 1968, he earned a Ph.D. in American history. Sternstein taught at the University of Iowa from 1967-1968, at Columbia University from 1969-1972, and at Brooklyn College from 1972-1998 until his retirement. Since then, he has been living in Hawley, Massachusetts. As the administrator of the artist's estate, he supports and accompanies the realization of various projects.
Raphael Rubinstein is an art critic and writer based in New York. He currently works as a professor of critical studies at the University of Houston School of Art. Additionally, he served as senior editor at Art in America from 1997-2007, where he continues to contribute. He has published numerous books, including the monograph devoted to Shirley Jaffe and published by Flammarion in 2014, and is known for his investigations into postwar European art. In 2002, the French government awarded him the Chevalier Award for Art and Literature.
Rubinstein met Shirley Jaffe when he was only 17 years old. She was a friend of his father and became a mentor to the young man. Jaffe had a profound influence on Rubinstein's development as an art critic.
Pierre Buraglio is a French artist who was born in 1939. He lives and works in Maison-Alfort, near Paris. From 1987 to 1997, he was a professor at the École des beaux-arts in Paris, where he also studied art. He was close to the Supports-Surfaces of the 1960s and 1970s, a movement that combined a material engagement with the formal elements of painting and a social as well as political stance. His work is characterized by the use of common consumables and the resulting economy of means, as well as the reuse of image sources from art history. Shirley Jaffe met Buraglio at the Jean Fournier Gallery, where he had been exhibiting since 1966. As a result, the two artists visited each other's exhibitions and developed a trusting friendship that provided fertile ground for many fruitful conversations.