Longtime Tribecan Cora Cohen dies at 79

photo by Curtis Everhardt

Longtime Tribecan and painter Cora Cohen died at a hospice in Brooklyn on June 22 at the age of 79. Thanks to John Willenbecher for letting me know. In reviewing her 2022 exhibition at Morgan Presents, ArtForum International called her “one of the most underrated painters in New York.”

“My work derives sustenance from the placement of culture within nature, as with the constantly changing active, unplanned energy moving through cities,” Cohen wrote as part of her artist statement on her website. “I approach each day with an anything can happen mentality.”

Cohen lived and worked for decades in the cast iron building at the corner of Reade and Broadway, 287 Broadway. Born in Manhattan in 1943, she studied at Bennington College (B.A. 1964, M.A. 1972) with Paul Feeley and Lawrence Alloway. She went on to lecture at the New York Studio School, Maryland Institute College of Art, Columbia University’s School of the Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Medicine Hat College and Bennington College.

Cohen’s first major solo exhibition was held at the Everson Museum of Art in 1974. In the 1990s, she began using photography to record slices of life in urban environments and began working on exposed x-ray films. A traveling exhibition, Cora Cohen: paintings and altered x-rays 1983-1996, and additional solo and group exhibitions, brought her critical recognition in the United States and Europe.

In 2020, when the pandemic hit, her studio assistant left the city and she insisted that her other helpers stay home. She she began going back to smaller, unfinished paintings and drawings that she had abandoned.

“My sense that life was not infinite, and that what I had not finished might never get finished unless I finished it right away, took over,” she wrote. “My works from that period had behind them the sense of urgency that I felt. Because they had been begun at different periods, I saw them as bridges between past and present, between the past and a radically uncertain future.”

“I want to make a painting that is non-finite, ambiguous but at the same time rather serious and non-ironic, a painting one might not notice as a painting. One might walk by it as one does a wall or an unremarkable tree, a method of turning failure into a compelling act.”

Cohen’s works have been written about extensively in various publications including The New York Times, The Brooklyn Rail, Art in America, Art News, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and ArtNet Magazine, and her work is in the permanent collection of many institutions including: the Swedish State Arts Council, Stockholm; The Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch Collection, Berlin; the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro; The William and Uytendale Scott Memorial Study Collection of Works by Women of The Bryn Mawr College Art and Archaeology Collection, Bryn Mawr; Yale University, New Haven; and the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase.

Cohen is the recipient of a 2013 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship Award. Her previous honors include grants from the NEA (1987), the New York Foundation for the Arts (1989), the Gottlieb Foundation (1990, 2006), The Pollock/Krasner Foundation Award (1998), a Yaddo Residency (1982), The Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Space Program Residency (2008-2009), and The Edward F. Albee Foundation Residency (2009).

A memorial will be held later this summer.