An Exhibition in the Reykjavík Art Museum:
Two Icelandic Artists and their New York Friends from the 1940s
Louisa joined the The Jane Street Gallery in Greenwich Village, a cooperative artist-run gallery that operated from 1943 to 1949. Among the other members were Nell Blaine, Robert De Niro sr., Jane Freilicher and Leland Bell (1922-1991), Louisa’s husband. She never returned to Iceland except for short visits but in the 1960s she began to paint the scenes from Iceland that are undoubtedly her best-known works.
Nína studied only briefly with Hofmann, continuing her studies with Hans Richter (1888-1976) and Morris Kantor (1896-1974), but she remained in contact with the group of Hoffmann’s students. Like Louisa, she married in the United States. Her husband was Alfred L. Copley, a medical scientist from Germany who had immigrated to the United States in 1937, gradually leaned more and more towards the arts and began exhibiting his work in New York in 1946 under the name Alcopley. They met in 1945 when Nína exhibited in J.B. Neumann’s gallery, the New Art Circle, a show that also brought her into contact with many of the city’s most influential artist’s and critics, such as the de Koonings, Kline, Alexander Calder, Clement Greenberg, Alfred J. Barr and Leo Castelli. Alfred and Nína were married in 1949 and seemed set to make their career in New York when politics intervened. Returning from a visit to Iceland she was refused entry to the United States on the grounds that she was suspected of being a communist sympathiser, this even though she was already married to an American citizen. Alfred gave up his work with the U.S. Atomic Commission and, after a brief period in Iceland, they settled in Paris. They did not return to the United States until late 1959. Despite these setbacks, Nína had a long and successful career in Iceland, Paris and New York. She and Louisa remained life-long friends.
This connection between Icelandic art and the influential art scene of New York in the 1940s is explored in an extensive new exhibition in the Reykjavík Art Museum. In a period when most Icelandic artist looked to Paris and the developing abstract geometrical style, these two women made a career in the city which many now see as having replaced Paris as the centre of innovation in art after the war. In the images accompanying this article some aspects of this connection can be explored further.
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