Audrey Flack, the Pioneering Photorealist Who Elevated the Everyday, Dies at 93

"Audrey Flack NOW," a show of her work from the last four years is due to open in October.

Audrey Flack. Photo by Nancy Bundt, courtesy of Hollis Taggart, New York.

Feminist painter and sculptor Audrey Flack, one of the founders of Photorealism, died in Southampton, New York, on June 28. The 93-year-old artist’s death was confirmed by her former dealer and longtime friend, Louis K. Meisel.

Born in New York in 1931, Flack studied at the city’s Cooper Union before receiving a scholarship to Connecticut’s Yale School of Art, where she had been recruited by Josef Albers, the educator and painter of geometric abstraction.

As a young artist, Flack was immersed in the downtown New York art scene, rubbing elbows with the famed Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock—whose advances she rebuffed—and Willem de Kooning at the 8th Street Club and Cedar Tavern. But she carved out a space of her own at the forefront of Photorealism in the 1960s after additional studies at New York’s Art Students League.

“Audrey Flack’s contribution to the history of art cannot be overstated,” Hollis Taggart, the artist’s gallerist, told Art and Object earlier this year. “Audrey has consistently been at the forefront of challenging the artistic trends of her time.”

A black-and-white photo of a young Flack painting an abstract expressionist style painting while holding a cigarette.

Audrey Flack painting at Yale University. Courtesy of the artist and Penn State University Press.

Painting from her own photographs, Flack created over-size still life paintings that often focused on feminine personal effects such as jewelry, makeup, and glassware, as well as religious artifacts.

“I broke the unwritten code of acceptable subject matter,” Flack wrote in an artist statement for the Brooklyn Museum. “Photorealists painted cars, motorcycles, and empty street scenes. Cool, unemotional, and banal were the terms used to describe the movement. My work, however, was humanist, emotional, and filled with referential symbolic imagery.”

Audrey Flack, Wheel of Fortune (1977–78). Courtesy of Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, Gift of Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel.

Audrey Flack, Wheel of Fortune (1977–78). Courtesy of Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, gift of Louis K. and Susan P. Meisel.

Some critics initially took umbrage with the elevation of such subject matter. In a review for the New York Times in 1976, Hilton Kramer called Flack “the Barbra Streisand of photorealism,” bemoaning that she was the first artist of the movement to have work purchased by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

But with a career that ultimately stretched across seven decades, Flack’s groundbreaking approach was able to stand the test of time. That MoMA acquisition, Leonardo’s Lady, was prominently displayed when the expanded museum reopened in 2019.

The elderly artist Audrey Flack dressed in tight black pants and a red sweatshirt reading "Feminist AF" stands in front of her Photorealist still life painting Leonardo's Lady in the Museum of Modern Art. The large painting shows the contents of a woman's nightstand, including a large pink rose, a bottle of blue nail polish, an open makeup compact, an open tub of facial cream, a Roman style statuette of a baby with grapes and a grape headdress, a wide black ribbon with orange embroidery, a small glass of water, a green pear, a small wine glass of water, a gold perfume bottle,a rhinestone brooch, and an art history text book open to a reproduction of Leonado da Vinci's painting La Belle Ferronnière.

Audrey Flack with her painting Leonardo’s Lady at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2019. Photo courtesy of Hollis Taggart, New York.

She is also represented in the collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as the Dallas Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., among other institutions. Flack’s personal papers, meanwhile, will find their home at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

And Flack was recognized by H.W. Janson’s History of Art, where she was one of the first women artists added to the authoritative art history textbook when it published a third edition in 1986.

A gilded bronze statue of a female goddess with curly hair and a star diadem holds a ring with a flame symbol inside it aloft above her head is seen against a bright blue sky. 

Audrey Flack, Civitas: Four Visions (1991), in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Photo courtesy of Hollis Taggart, New York.

By that time, Flack had left Photorealism behind to break new artistic ground, moving into large-scale bronze sculpture depicting female goddesses. This reinvention led to prominent public art commissions across the U.S., including Civitas (1991), a gateway monument in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

“Flack is one of a group of early feminist artists whose work was crucial in generating new ideas concerning the representation of women, and her goddesses continue to chart new territory,” Patricia Mathews wrote in Art in America in 1994.

A black and white photograph of painter Audrey Flack, who died at 93, as a young woman. She has dark hair and glasses, and a parrot on her shoulder. She is standing in front of a larger than life self portrait of her face.

Audrey Flack and parrot with Self Portrait (1974). Photo courtesy of Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York.

Recent years saw Flack return to painting, in what she dubbed her “Post-Pop Baroque” period. She remained active in the studio, and in October, the Parrish Museum of Art in Water Mill, New York, will present work from the last four years in “Audrey Flack NOW.”

“When I’m painting now, everything is at my fingertips. It’s magical,” Flack told Vogue this spring. “They say before you die you see everything from your life. In my 92 years, a lot pops up.”

The elderly Audrey Flack, with short gray hair, stands in her art studio with her colorful recent paintings, two displayed on easels and others hanging on and propped up against the wall of her art studio.

Audrey Flack in her studio January 2024. Photo courtesy of Hollis Taggart, New York.

This year saw Flack publish a deeply personal memoir, With Darkness Came Stars, detailing the artist’s abuse at the hands of her first husband, and the challenges of raising a nonverbal daughter with autism.

Flack is survived by her two daughters from her first marriage, Melissa and Hannah, and stepchildren Mitchell and Leslie. After her first marriage ended in divorce, Flack married her high school sweetheart, Robert Marcus, who died this May.

“Audrey Flack NOW” will be on view at the Parrish Museum of Art, 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, New York, October 13, 2024–April 6, 2025.

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