At the Warhol Museum, Dorothy Cantor’s Art Is in Touch with Its Time and Place

THE DAILY PIC: As a student, Cantor outdid her classmates Warhol and Pearlstein.


THE DAILY PIC (#1354): This lovely picture by Dorothy Cantor is dated 1949-50, painted when she was a student in the art department at what is now called Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. She was a classmate and close friend of Andy Warhol – no introductions needed – and also of Philip Pearlstein, who went on to be one of the country’s most prominent figurative painters. In 1950, she moved to New York and married Pearlstein; the couple still live there in a classic artists’ loft. Her painting is in a show called Pearlstein, Warhol, Cantor: From Pittsburgh to New York, at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, where it’s one of the most exciting and unexpected pieces.

More than Warhol or Pearlstein, who went their own ways, Cantor understood and expressed the essence of their impressive moment at the Carnegie art school. Her painting has the Modernist rigor and order of the Bauhaus, whose influence was so strong among her teachers, but it also has the strong ties to social context that the faculty likewise cared deeply about. For all its stylish geometry, that is, it reveals an accurate and recognizable image of Pittsburgh’s industrial infrastructure, in a view that’s largely unchanged today – as it happens, just across the river from the Warhol Museum itself. The painting is regionalist – American Regionalism had a major presence in Pittsburgh’s art museum at the time – without being at all provincial. Its complex, stippled surface also shows hints of the new Abstract Expressionist movement whose ripples were then spreading out from New York.

With such a perfect command of her moment and context in art, it’s a shame for us esthetes – but maybe not for her kids – that Cantor soon gave up painting for parenting. It feels like a privilege to see strong work that’s been hidden so long. (Image courtesy the artist)

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