Naomi Feinberg: the sculptor who carved a place for herself in a man’s world

Naomi Feinberg: the sculptor who carved a place for herself in a man’s world

Lobel Modern has unveiled a compelling display of work from the late artist Naomi Feinberg, a woman at the helm of American 20th-century sculpture. Focusing on 14 mid-career pieces from the 1960s and 1970s, the exhibition coincides with the 10th anniversary of the New York Design Center, where the showroom is located.

Gallerist Evan Lobel first encountered Feinberg in his original Chelsea gallery in the early 2000s, when she was already well into retirement. She expressed an appreciation for his curation, and he in turn fell for her ‘primitive yet sophisticated’ constructions.

Composed primarily of limestone, granite and marble posed on circular or cubic plinths, Feinberg’s sculptures radiate a hand-carved physicality, harmonising the materials’ characteristics with the imprints of her own body. Feinberg references cubism, African and pre-Columbian art to create multifaceted anthropomorphic forms. Sinuous curves meet abrupt cubic blocks as the artist fuses hard-edged architectural configurations with elements of the human form.

Resilience, c1970s, by Naomi Feinberg, white and orange marble

Born Naomi Levine in New York in 1919, she grew up during the Great Depression. At 17, she met and married writer, painter and book designer Sidney Feinberg, drawn together by a mutual passion for the visual arts. As a young woman in postwar America, she first found creative solace in needlework and fashion, later turning to ceramics before establishing her groove in stone.

In the early 1940s, Feinberg studied alongside the likes of Jose De Creeft and Lorrie Goulet at the New School, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Students League, and the School of Visual Arts. She discovered a kindred spirit in constructivist painter and sculptor Dorothy Dehner while they were both members of the Studio 725, an alliance of female artists who maintained a studio at Union Square. (A number of Dehner’s sculptures still bear carved inscriptions dedicated to Feinberg.)

A relative latecomer to the art world, Feinberg undoubtedly made up for lost time with a vast and accomplished body of work to her name. She has been represented in numerous exhibitions staged by the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, while her work is held in the archives of American art at the Smithsonian Institute.

The Lobel Modern show demonstrates Feinberg’s resilience in becoming one of the foremost 20th-century artists – a woman boldly sculpting in a man’s world. §

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