Martha Erlebacher Retrospective Debuts At NY Academy Of Art

Martha Erlebacher, “Cycle of Life, Air, Childhood,” 64 by 64 inches, courtesy of Seraphin Gallery.

NEW YORK CITY — The first posthumous retrospective of work by artist Martha Erlebacher (1937–2013), a renowned representational and figurative painter from the 1960s through 2013, is at the New York Academy of Art’s Wilkinson Gallery through November 24.

The retrospective is the largest assembly of the artist’s work to date, bringing together more than 30 works, including never-before-seen paintings from the artist’s private collection.

The exhibition offers a complete survey of the artist’s work and highlights, for the first time, the full trajectory of Erlebacher’s 45-year career.

During the course of her lifetime, Martha Mayer Erlebacher became a contemporary master of representational art and a formidable educator. Until now, the totality of her work has not been fully explored. Including poignant nudes, still lifes and her critical reflections of the art world evidenced through her “Avant Duck” series, the exhibition creates a vivid portrait of the artist. Adding to this tribute is its setting at the New York Academy of Art where Erlebacher was named faculty chair in 1999 and spent 14 years teaching.

“Martha Erlebacher was a force of nature,” says Peter Drake, New York Academy of Art’s dean of academic affairs. “She was driven to perfection in her work and her teaching. Many are the grown men who quivered at the thought of her razor-sharp criticism, but so too are there legions of students who adored her and benefited enormously from her exacting standards. She was a supreme craftsman as a painter and a deeply knowledgeable anatomist who made it her mission to revive and preserve a classical understanding of the human form.”

Born in 1937, Erlebacher lived and worked in Elkins Park, Penn., until her passing this year at the age of 75.

Erlebacher’s dedication to representational and figurative art was a direct departure from her training in Abstract Expressionism, a school that she and husband Walter broke from in the 1960s. Erlebacher’s figurative paintings and still life images reflected her mastery of the human form, historical painting techniques and her own take on Modernism.

She examined social themes of contemporary culture through metaphor and symbolic references and often explored dualities of classical and organic, spiritual and pagan, that brought the past into the present.

Most recently, Erlebacher’s last work, a daring self-portrait made in her most vulnerable state, received top honors at the 2013 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition and is on view at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“Martha Erlebacher Retrospective” is organized in partnership with the Erlebacher family and Seraphin Gallery, Philadelphia.

The Wilkinson Gallery is at 111 Franklin Street. For more information, contact Elizabeth Hobson at 212-844-5966 or at ehobson@nyaa.edu.

Martha Erlebacher, “Duck, Duck, Goose,” 2009, oil on canvas, 20 by 22 inches.

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