Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


life. I continued this study steadily until 9/11 temporarily made current events in New York City more urgent to me than those of the New York art world of the 1940s and 1950s, and my research at the heavily guarded New York office of the National Archives became more difficult.
          The first document I located and retrieved, from the New York City Department of Records and Information Services in the Municipal Archives, was a copy of Janet and Max Sobel’s marriage certificate (see
Documents page), which Sol and Leah Sobel told me they did not have.9  The certificate showed that Sol’s parents, then Jennie Wilson and Max Zebulsky, had married on June 9, 1910, and it provided other bits of personal information about the couple. Then Gail Levin wrote the essay for the 2003 exhibition catalog Inside Out: Selected Works by Janet Sobel.10 Levin followed that essay with her 2005 portrait of Janet Sobel in the Woman’s Art Journal [WAJ],11 which repeated and enlarged her 2003 catalog essay and attempted to correct some of its errors. When I resumed my study of Janet Sobel’s life, I saw that my research led me to factual conclusions often very different from Gail Levin’s and occasionally from those of previous writers, and much of this article will discuss the instances in which I think these writers have not reported on Janet Sobel’s life and achievement accurately.

Foremost among these instances, because it diminishes our knowledge of Sobel’s art even more than of her life, is Gail Levin’s mistake in identifying and describing two of Sobel’s most significant and exhibited abstract works—the paintings Music (1944) and Milky Way (1945). Milky Way, which is almost twice the size of Music, is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, given to it by Sobel’s family in 1968. Unfortunately, the disappearance of these two paintings from public view for so many years made it very difficult to discover Levin’s and/or the Woman’s Art Journal’s error, and it was only because I had very recently obtained a reproduction of Milky Way from the Museum of Modern Art’s rights and reproduction agent, Art Resource, that I was able to realize that color plate 5 of Levin’s article in the WAJ was identified as Music, but is actually a very bad reproduction of Milky Way.


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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009