Mary Maxwell

Serena Rothstein: Discourse in Paint


About Serena Rothstein

Serena Rothstein came to New York City from Kletzk, Poland when she was eight years old.  While working at a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the late thirties, she studied with Kimon Nicolaides at the Art Students League, supplying student drawings for NicolaidesThe Natural Way to Draw.  From 1948 to 1952  she studied with Hans Hofmann.  

In 1951 she showed her work at the House of Duveen, in a group exhibition entitled, The Expansionists.”  Other Hofmann students in the show included Jan Muller, Felix Pasilis and John Grillo. Of her work, Robert Coates (who in that very article coined the phrase abstract expressionism) noted in The New Yorker, The only [works in the show] I really admired were Serena Rothstein (for, especially, her somber, well-organized Compulsion.’ ”

In 1952 Rothstein moved to Italy Italy, working on the island of Ischia among a group of expatriates that included W.H. Auden, Richard Olney and Kenneth Anger. She went back and forth from Europe to New York,(she purchased a studio in Paris), returning home for three solo shows at the Bayer Gallery in 1959, 1960 and 1962.  Of the Rothsteins work at the 1959 show, Hofmann observed, This is an unquestionable talentExamine the richness of the color.  She understands it it has dimension.

Her first show received positive eviews by Dore Ashton (New York Times) and Sidney Tillim (Arts magazine) who opined, Hers is a discourse illuminated by many brilliant passages rather than a realized system, but  she seems capable of living with the same doubts that inspire her research.Her third show attracted the notice of the New York Times critic, Stuart Preston.

In the early sixties she alternated between Paris and New York until travelling to Israel in 1974 where she painted and taught.  She returned permanently to New York City, moving to a retirement community in Maryland in 1991. Fully committed to abstraction, she continued painiting until her death in 1994.

Posthumously her work has been exhibited in Serena Rothstein,at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum in 2008, and a solo show, Urban Lyrics,at the Art Strand gallery in 2010.  A catalogue of the PAAM exhibition, Serena Rothstein: Discourse in Paint, was published in 2008; a portfolio of the Art Strand show, with text by Mary Maxwell, is forthcoming, as is a monograph on her series after Delacroixs Jacob and the Angel.


Serena Rothstein: Discourse in Paint was published on the occasion of the exhibition “Serena Rothstein” at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown,  Massachusetts, January 18-March 9, 2008.  The soft-bound monograph contains 32 pages of four-color reproductions and photographs, along with an accompanying essay by Mary Maxwell.