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Art Adventures: Pat Steir brings Waterfalls to the Barnes

By Alexander Mason Hankin | January 28, 2019 | Lifestyle

It’s not often that you get a chance to witness one of the paramount female abstract artists of our time unveil and discuss her latest work. Although she has been painting for over five decades, this unrelenting octogenarian continues to produce new works as energetically and tenaciously as ever.


We were lucky enough to be invited to view some of these remarkable pieces this past week when legendary American painter, Pat Steir unveiled her latest work, Silent Secret Waterfalls: The Barnes Series. Steir is best known for her massive abstract drip “waterfall” paintings, which she has produced in various incarnations since the early 1980s.

Steir’s paintings mark the first time, since Henri Matisse in 1933, that the Barnes Foundation has commissioned an artist to create site specific paintings. In a conversation with Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President of the Barnes Foundation and curator of the exhibition, Steir noted that Philadelphia has always held a special place in her heart. Raised just across the water in South Jersey, Steir divulged that her first art education was skipping school and taking the bus to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Steir’s intentions were to both allow her paintings to stand alone, but also connect to one another in a group context. Collins remarked that he also sought to give Steir the opportunity to respond to the architecture of the building, an opportunity she utilized to allow her paintings to change with the lighting and speak to the permanent collection.

Steir embraces chance and the natural environmental in her creative processes, along with an automated lift and the ceiling fan in her studio to help her produce her iconic “waterfall” pieces. While painting, she does not contemplate the viewer, but only the work itself. Her theory of never fighting the process and believing in the intersection of creativity and circumstances is perhaps what makes her paintings so beautiful and powerful. Steir sums it up best herself when discussing friend and mentor Agnes Martin, “What I learned from Agnes Martin was you have to make art because you can’t make anything else... it’s like the birds singing.”

Pat Steir - Silent Secret Waterfalls: The Barnes Series

Through November 17, 2019 at The Barnes Foundation

Photography by: