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Eleanore Mikus (American, 1927-2017)

Eleanore Mikus was an artist whose work, with a strong emphasis on material and experimentation, was always about process and the creation of what she termed “kinesthetic moving surfaces.”

In the early 1960s, Mikus began developing a series she called Tablets. Hybrids of painting and relief, the Tablets were formed on her studio floor – the largest space available to the artist. She would engage with this series throughout the decade, creating a number of white, black, and gray Tablets, experimenting first with wood and then with fiberglass. With the work facing down, Mikus built up and glued together roughly sawed pieces of wood from the reverse, thinking about the front without actually seeing it. She would then raise them up, assess their forms, and begin to work on the verso by repetitively sanding and painting its surface. This process would be repeated innumerable times over the course of many weeks, sometimes even years, until she achieved the desired effect – luminous, smooth surfaces that were imbued with an organic sense of movement and that cast variable, real-life shadows.

The 1960s also saw the inception of the Paperfolds, which Mikus made by repeatedly folding and unfolding, building up and pushing down on sheets of paper; the resulting creases forming the basis of each complex gridded composition. At first glance the works are seemingly simple, but as the artist notes, “the more you look, the more you see.” Mikus made Paperfolds continuously throughout her career, in the 1990s introducing color to the series.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Mikus studied art in Europe and the Art Students League in New York and had distinguished teaching career on the studio art faculty at Cornell University from 1979 to 1994. She received fellowships in painting from the Guggenheim (1966-67) and McDowell (1969), and a fellowship in lithography from Tamarind Lithography Workshop (1968) where she made the Tablet Lithos, a series of 30 prints. She was awarded grants from Cornell University in 1985 and 2001 and she received a Yaddo Grant in drawing and painting in 2004. Mikus’s work can be found in prominent private and public collections including The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; and the Victorian and Albert Museum, United Kingdom.  

Mikus exhibited her paintings, Paperfolds, and prints regularly throughout her career. She was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition in 2006-07 curated by Luis Camnitzer for The Drawing Center, New York. In 2017, Craig F. Starr Gallery presented a historical exhibition of work from the 1960s. The same year, she was included in the important exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction at The Museum of Modern, New York. Craig F. Starr Gallery highlighted Mikus’s work again in Spotlight at Frieze New York in 2019. A selection of the Tablet Lithos are currently on view at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX.

The Eleanore Mikus Estate has been represented by Craig F. Starr Gallery since 2017.