“Everything I do is taken from sources that didn’t originate from me and yet everything I do
emanates from my whole life.” - Dotty Attie, 1976
P·P·O·W is pleased to present What Surprised Them Most, Dotty Attie’s eleventh solo exhibition with the gallery. Featuring major works from 1974 to 2023, this exhibition marks the first survey of Attie’s practice. For nearly six decades, Attie has rigorously engaged the grid as a formal and conceptual tool, masterfully rendering her small-scale drawings and canvases to create cadenced arrangements that disrupt the accepted art historical canon. From her earliest drawings to her more recent paintings,What Surprised Them Most highlights Attie’s lifelong dedication to recontextualizing sourced images with unique text, exhibiting a profoundly original body of work that questions societal conventions and reveals to the viewer “the parts of ourselves that we don’t really share with anybody else.”
A presence in the New York art scene since the late 1960s, Attie co-founded A.I.R. Gallery, the first all-female cooperative artists’ gallery, in 1972. The original founding group of 20 women included Nancy Spero, Judith Bernstein, Agnes Denes, Harmony Hammond, and Howardena Pindell, amongst others. Between 1972 and 1986, Attie presented seven solo exhibitions with the pioneering cooperative, exhibiting works exclusively in graphite. Serving as the title piece of the exhibition, one such work is comprised of 86 intimate miniatures that process across nearly 30 feet of wall. In What Surprised Them Most, 1974, Attie intersperses isolated sentences from the 1954 erotic novel, The Story of O, with close-ups of faces, body parts, animals, and gardens from 18th and 19th European portraiture and landscape painting. Deftly straddling the line between fantasy and taboo, Attie deploys these cropped images to belie the erotic drama beneath the surface of her carefully rendered drawings.
Departing from her early drawing practice, Attie’s first solo exhibition at P·P·O·W in 1988 marked a shift to working exclusively in series of 6 x 6-inch canvases, a scale she continues to use to this day. Employing strategies of minimalism and appropriation, Attie radically dismembers accepted genres of painting. Reveling in nuance, she sequences sections from canonical Old Master paintings, Modern photographs, and Hollywood promotional imagery with her own texts, harnessing the power of the subliminal through her disjointed imagery. Bringing together these historic and contemporary works for the first time, What Surprised Them Most chronicles Attie’s narrative approach to ceaselessly mining the hidden depths of the psyche and exposing viewers to the secret parts of themselves.
Dotty Attie (b. 1938) was born in Pennsauken, New Jersey and lives and works in New York City. She received a BFA from the Philadelphia College of Art, Philadelphia, PA, in 1959; a Beckmann Fellowship at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School, New York, NY in 1960; and attended the Art Students League, New York, NY in 1967. Attie was awarded a Creative Artists Public Service grant in 1976 from the New York State Council and grants from National Endowment for the Arts in 1976 and 1983. In 2013, Attie was inducted into the National Academy of Design. Her work is in the collections of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, CT; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Whitney Museum, New York, NY; and the Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY; among others. Attie’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at P·P·O·W, New York, NY; Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, CA; Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA; the New Museum, New York, NY; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX; and A.I.R. Gallery, New York, NY, among others. Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions including The Grid and the Curve, JTT, New York, NY; Rage, Resist, Rise!, Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA; This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, curated by Helen Molesworth, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and Burning Down the House: Building a Feminist Art Collection, curated by Maura Reilly and Nicole Caruth, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, NY.