Hauser & Wirth New York presents ‘Forever Young,’ our first exhibition devoted to the art of Cathy Josefowitz (1956 – 2014). This focused presentation, occupying two floors of the gallery’s 69th Street location, celebrates Josefowitz’s life, vision and achievements through a meticulous selection of works, including many on view for the first time.
Featuring a series of paintings, works on paper—including pastel, felt- tip pen, ink, gouache and watercolor—and rare film footage from two choreographies, the exhibition spotlights the earliest works in Josefowitz’s practice and explores traces of these pivotal breakthroughs that persisted throughout her career.
‘Painting is the only thing I know how to do, it's like breathing, it's natural. I paint because I need to, because if I don't paint, I go crazy I need to express, it's my way of existing.’
The exhibition opens with a group of paintings produced during the early 1970s when Josefowitz was living in Paris, where she moved to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Influenced by several major 20th-century artistic movements, from fauvism and expressionism to Der Blaue Reiter, these early paintings reveal the artist’s incipient desire to show intimacy expressed through the quotidian as well as the inspiration she drew from cherished memories of her family and childhood.
Anchoring the gallery’s first floor is film footage of Josefowitz’s first choreography, ‘Woodstock’ (1983). Having attended the renowned Dartington College of Arts in Devon, England from 1979 to 1983, where she studied with such masters of contemporary dance as Steve Paxton and Mary Fulkerson, Josefowitz sought to dismantle the conventional hierarchy that separated performance and painting at that time and reconcile these two mediums in her practice. On stage, the symbols and themes that punctuated Josefowitz’s pictorial work became the subject of her choreographies.
‘l was crippled by the image of myself. I choose to express myself through the art of painting and drawing. As I grew older the paintings became bigger till they reached human size, the topics were always people. Colourful people in energetic activities.’
As the exhibition moves to the second floor, viewers are exposed to the drawings that allowed Josefowitz, in even more immediate terms than painting, to realize the physical possibilities of the body. A selection of works on paper demonstrate how the artist used pastels to represent sensation through raw, unvarnished and increasingly distorted figures, capturing the body in both its anatomical and metaphysical dimensions. Executed on the pages of small notebooks that she always carried, these drawings exhibit the characteristic warping and exaggeration of her subjects’ anatomy, permitting her to convey the tenderness of an embrace or a figure’s exaggerated gesture and gaze more fully.
‘When I create my choreography, I work in the same way as in my paintings, I do a lot of drawings from each choreography, I draw nearly every single scene.’
Josefowitz also began her painting sessions with a dance as her practice moved further into abstraction and the exploration of space on both the stage and the canvas, which in turn resulted in the gradual disappearance of the body from her oeuvre. This evolution is evident in such oil paintings as ‘Triptyque bleu blanc rouge’ (1994) that depict eerily anthropomorphic chairs, a direct reference to ‘For Ever Young,’ in which she captured the body in motion, fading—or falling away—into the canvas, in a single abstracted image.
Her Kamasutra paintings from 2009 and 2010—inspired by the Indian mystic Osho, whose teachings promoted the celebration of life—show couples having sex while also minimizing the human body to such a degree that it is hardly discernible against the limitless, monochromatic space surrounding the figures. With this focus on shading, geometry and ambiguous settings, Josefowitz would in the last years of her life use these elements to evoke the same emotional resonance of the spirit that she had, until this point, used the body itself to summon. In the last paintings that the artist produced, the figure disappeared from her oeuvre entirely, giving way to a total abstraction that liberated the artist in her quest to dispense with limits and restrictions.
Prolific, prescient and powerfully original yet under-recognized in her lifetime, Josefowitz (1956 – 2014) produced a diverse body of work that ingeniously transcends hierarchies of medium and genre. Over the course of four decades, this New York-born, Swiss-raised artist created an oeuvre of remarkable ambition, spanning drawing and painting, theater and dance, as she developed a deeply personal visual syntax in her quest to represent the body as an expressive vehicle of individual experience. Josefowitz’s practice reconciled the visual arts and performance, leaving an exceptional legacy as substantial in scale as it is intimate and potent in its impact.
Cathy JosefowitzForever Young
On view now through 22 July 2023 at Hauser & Wirth New York 69th Street.