Still active at 90, Bronx native Rosalyn Drexler was at the center of the 1960s arts scene not only as a painter but also as a novelist and playwright — winning the first of three Obie Awards for her 1964 play “Home Movies.” For much of her creative life, Drexler’s profile has been highest as a writer. But her work as a visual artist is the subject of an exhibition on view at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum through April 17.
“Rosalyn Drexler: Who Does She Think She Is?” includes paintings, sculptures, and photographic and video documentation encompassing Drexler’s career from the 1950s to the present. Her work reflects influences from advertising to film noir, rendered in the vivid colors so closely identified with Pop Art. Whereas that movement tended to focus on consumerism and celebrity, Drexler’s sensibility allows for more emotion and mystery.
The exhibition originated at Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, where it was co-curated by Katy Siegel and Caitlin Julia Rubin. At the Kemper, its curator is Allison Unruh.
Drexler “deserves to be much better known than she is” as a visual artist, says Unruh, who is associate curator at the museum. “So the idea was to have the most comprehensive exhibition to date of her work.”
Some of Drexler’s imagery is indeed striking. “Sorry About That” (1966), which depicts the aftermath of an apparently deadly encounter between two men, may have been an influence on Robert Longo’s “Men in the Cities” drawings of the 1980s. And it’s possible that artist Art Spiegelman took inspiration from Drexler’s “Nuclear Blast/Amusement Park” (1998), which boasts much the same look as his “Maus” drawings.
Indeed, museumgoers may find themselves impressed with the sheer breadth of Drexler’s artistic vision.
“It must have been hard to categorize her, from pretty early on,” Unruh says. “She didn’t fit into a box.”
At 6 p.m. March 24, free staged readings of Drexler’s one-act plays “Utopia Parkway” and “Room 17C” will be presented in the museum atrium. “Pop Art in Practice,” a collage-making workshop inspired by the exhibition, will be conducted at the Kemper from 4 to 7 p.m. March 27 in Room 104 ($10; free to museum members).