Sari Dienes was a genre-defying artist who, by pioneering the most diverse mediums in over sixty years of artistic activity, inspired a whole generation of American artists with her unique sensibility. Of Hungarian roots, Dienes traveled throughout Europe, studying fine arts between Paris and London with Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne and befriending Henry Moore and Max Ernst, among others. In 1939, parallel to the outbreak of World War II in Europe, she moved to the United States, settling in New York. Beginning in the 1940s, Dienes taught drawing and composition in New York at Parsons School of Design and the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Her studio quickly became a gathering site for artistic personalities who were to become undisputed luminaries of the American scene, such as Mark Rothko, John Cage, Ray Johnson, Earle Brown, and Jackson Mac Low. Her works dating to this period were investigations in printmaking, produced in the famed Atelier 17. Her trip to the southwestern United States in 1947 provided new impulses for Dienes’s aesthetic, inspired by the surrealness of nature and its textures and especially its silent remnants, side by side with the debris of modernity. The attraction to the found object would make Dienes a pioneer in the assemblage technique. A few years later, during a residency at the Yaddo artist retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York, she began working on her first rubbings. Through this particular technique, she enhanced immediacy by emphasizing traces andchance, more attuned to her Zen philosophical positions and experimental practice than traditional printmaking. In New York, the same technique was used in the urban environment of sidewalks, manholes, lids, and grates, creating the outstanding Sidewalk Rubbings series. The younger artists Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns often assisted Dienes with her large canvases and industriousness on the streets of New York. Dienes was also closely associated with many Fluxus artists, including Dick Higgins, Yoko Ono, and Nam June Paik, participating in numerous editions of Charlotte Moorman’s Annual Avant Garde Festival. Her free spirit and unconventional approach inspired Francesco Conz, who discovered a series of her early drawings while visiting Dienes together with Ben Patterson. Highly regarded among her colleagues yet underacknowledged by the general public, Dienes was a strong advocate for women artists, co-founding the first women’s cooperative in New York, the A.I.R. Gallery, and the legendary pub The Ear Inn together with Rip Hayman. She received numerous awards and commissions from, among others, the Ford Foundation (1965), the Mark Rothko Foundation (1971), and the National Endowment of the Arts (1980) and was also a recipient of the United Nations Award for Distinguished Woman Artist (1976). Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions at, among others, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1971), The Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum (each serval times) in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago (2017), the Rockland Center for the Arts, West Nyack, New York (2020), and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2021).

Artworks (8)