Ida Applebroog: Push It to the Limit
Where do you draw the line when it comes to an artist and expression? As Ida Applebroog, a Bronx, New York native, gets older her work becomes even more uncompromising. Pushing every possible limit in the art world, Applebroog touches on and creates imagery in which violence, sex, embarrassment and vulnerability can erupt at any moment in time for the entire world to see. “The anxiety is collective; it’s something we all have in common. We live in an age where we’re continuously overloaded with information, and we get all of it so swiftly,” stated the artist. “I don’t see my work as particularly tough. But we live in a world that’s tough, and this is what happens. It just comes out of my head, and its here.”
Born in 1929, Applebroog attended the New York State Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences. This mother of four went on to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968. She has also received an honorary doctorate from New School University/Parsons School of Design. After relocating to San Diego, California with her family in 1972, she exhibited “Invisible/Visible” at Long Beach Art Museum. The following year, she taught at the University of California before returning to New York City in 1974. Applebroog went on to circulate a series of self-published books and joined Heresies/A Feminist Journal on Art and Politics. Shortly after in 1981, she showed “Applebroog: Silent Stagings,” her first exhibition at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York where she continued to show her work for over 20 years.
Applebroog has been one of the art world’s most provocative artists since the mid 70’s, when she created a number of books and mailed them to an assortment of critics, gallery owners and artists. While many found these books intriguing, others were simply appalled by what they had received. “I still have a big file of the correspondence I got back,” she said laughing. “Some people loved it, and some people wrote back: ‘Don’t you ever put that poison in my mailbox again.’” Much of the unsettling work that has made Applebroog an influential figure in the creative world over the last three decades has been simple, like the cartoon storyboards she began making in the 70’s; funny in a way that boarders on weird; and threatening by always being brutally honest in all of her pieces. “In later works, which are sometimes based on news articles or photographs cut out of newspapers and magazines, the specter of violence or horror is more explicit: a red-hooded Klan figure, a woman gingerly holding a gun, a man swinging an ax like a golf club, a violinist playing while wearing a gas mask,” stated nytimes.com. In more recent years, she has developed an instantly recognizable style of simplified human forms with bold outlines. Her familiar painting style of the every man and woman figures has gained her huge critical attention and success. “When I first started putting out these images, especially the ones including text, some people were uncomfortable: I was hitting to close to some of their experiences and feelings” said the artist. “The drawings were about situations that people don’t talk about. They were very private, personal thoughts. And in art, one just didn’t do that.”
Applebroog has extended the structure of her paintings by surrounding a central image with several smaller panels that amplify the centerpiece. Often the smaller images portray a moment of extreme vulnerability. When the artist uses text in her work it often explains absolutely nothing. These texts are usually there to puzzle and mock the audience. “Sometimes people ask me what the work’s about. If I were to tell them that I made up ‘the story’ they wouldn’t believe me. If I were to say it’s about me, they’d be embarrassed. So, for the most part, I try never to say exactly what it is,” said the artist. She has been making social commentary in the form of art for nearly half a century. “In her most characteristic work, she combines popular imagery from everyday urban and domestic scenes, sometimes paired with curt texts, to skew otherwise banal images into anxious scenarios infused with a sense of irony and black humor,” according to pbs.org.
In addition to paintings, the artist has also created sculptures, books, films, and animated short stories that appeared on the side of a moving truck and on a giant screen in Times Square. Her work has been shown in many exhibitions throughout the United States including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, TX and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA among others. She has also received many awards including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College Art Association. Applebroog’s work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others. She has even recently been profiled in the PBS documentary “Art 21: Art in the Twenty-first Century.”
Currently, still living in New York City, Applebroog continues to create strong themes in her artwork including gender and sexual identity, political and personal power struggles, and the role of mass media in desensitizing the public to violence. Her works, which often push the limits of artistic view, will continue to present the hard-hitting questions that we are so often afraid to face.