Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
Nearly 80 years ago, the Brooklyn Museum displayed the works of several up-and-coming artists. Among the not-yet-household names featured were Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, who would go on to earn fame and recognition far beyond the art world for their development of the abstract expressionist style. They weren’t the only artists there, though. Juanita Guccione was born in 1904, and despite decades of work that produced nearly 700 pieces of art that would be displayed around the world and earn significant praise, she is virtually unknown today despite the tireless efforts of her son, the writer and poet Djelloul Marbrook, and his wife Marilyn.
For 35 years Djelloul and Marilyn cared for the paintings, restoring, conserving, and framing them, and they were frequently shown in Washington, Provincetown, Woodstock and elsewhere. The Weinstein Gallery of San Francisco acquired them in early 2014, fulfilling the Marbrooks’ dream to place the paintings with a gallerist who understood them. Weinstein specializes in North American women surrealists, including Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington, so it was a perfect match. Weinstein plans a major retrospective of Juanita Guccione’s work, with a documentary film and monograph by scholars, like Dr. Susan Aberth at Bard College, who is Carrington’s biographer.
Juanita Guccione spent her childhood in Massachusetts and later Brooklyn. After studying at the Art Students League, she left the country, eventually settling in an artists’ colony in Algeria, called Bou Saada, amongst the Ouled Nail tribe. Her paintings from this period are devoid of the flamboyant romanticism of the Orientalist painters. She painted the Bedouin as friends and neighbors, reflecting her anticolonialist beliefs. Years later, Algeria acquired a large number of these paintings for display in the National Museum of Fine Arts, a reassuring sign that her legacy is not forgotten in North Africa.
Guccione’s work was respectfully received in her lifetime. The French critic Michel-Georges Michel, for example, wrote in the early 1950s that she was one of the few American artists who interested him. Cubist, realist, automatist, and abstract strains can all be found in her work. By 1970, she was painting electrifying works in watercolor and acrylic that critics consider impossible to categorize. For most of her career she was considered a Surrealist, often producing brilliantly colored paintings depicting a whimsical world ruled by women. In her later work, however, she abandoned the human figure and juxtaposition of the observed world all together, fully embracing an independence hinted at earlier in her career.
— Based on an article by David King writing for Chronogram
Europa, Juanita Guccione, oil on canvas, 28.25” x 34”, 1939.