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Idelle Weber, Jump Rope, 1967–68, plastic and neon lighting, 93 x 48 x 18".
Idelle Weber, Jump Rope, 1967–68, plastic and neon lighting, 93 x 48 x 18".

Idelle Weber (1932–2020)

Idelle Weber, who emerged as an important Pop artist in the 1960s with her paintings of anonymous silhouettes in corporate or abstract settings, has died at age eighty-eight in New York City. The news was announced by Hollis Taggart gallery, which has represented the artist since 2018. Weber’s earliest paintings—made on canvas or Plexiglas in the 1960s—would later inform the opening credits of the television series Mad Men (2007–2015). Critic John Yau once wrote that he found in her varied and underrecognized work, inflected by both Pop and Minimalist sensibilities, a “sensuality that is simultaneously solid and elusive, bold and restrained, celebratory and ascetic.”

Born in Chicago in 1932, Weber moved with her family to Southern California as a child and quickly grew interested in art. In the ’50s, she relocated to New York, and one of her charcoal drawings was chosen for inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Recent Drawings USA” survey. MoMA curator Sam Hunter introduced her to art historian H.W. Janson, who told Weber he respected her work but that he did not include female painters in his best-selling textbooks. In 1958, she enrolled beside Ralph Humphries and Theodoros Stamos at the Art Students League, where she began developing her iconography of hard-edged ciphers that would define her 1960s output. Like many women artists at the time, she was turned away from several New York galleries, but she eventually found representation with furniture designer Bertha Schaefer. Munchkins I, II, & III, 1964, is one among many works that address gender stereotypes in the workplace: The seventeen-foot-wide triptych depicts featureless businessmen on crisscrossing escalators. It was purchased by the Chrysler Museum of Art in 2013.

If Weber originally found inspiration by looking up to Manhattan’s skyscrapers, in the ’70s she found it by looking at its sidewalks, painting urban tableaux of litter and fruit stands in the American Photorealist style that sprouted from Pop. From the 1980s onward, she focused partly on nature, collage, and printmaking, creating works such as her black-and-white monotypes inspired by television coverage of the Gulf War. Weber taught at New York University, Harvard University, and the Victorian College of Arts in Melbourne, Australia, among other schools. Her art has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Harvard Art Museums, and the Brooklyn Museum.