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At the Galleries

As a more varied diet, the past season also offered little-known works by a postwar sculptor, a surprise from a modern master, responses to a special location by young contemporaries, and an impressive number of exhibitions by women, both those working currently and from the recent past. To begin with the women, at Washburn Gallery in Chelsea, “Alice Trumbull Mason: Shutter Paintings” presented severe, elegant works from the early 1960s by a pioneer of American abstraction. Mason (1904–1971) was a co-founder, in 1936, of American Abstract Artists, a still vital organization, so high-minded in its early years that Piet Mondrian joined when he came to the U.S. in 1940. Always dedicated to geometric abstraction, Mason explored multiple approaches to the discipline over the years, producing some of her strongest work in her last decade. Witness the confrontational Shutter Paintings at Washburn Gallery, with their angled vertical bars and cool palette of off-greys, tans, dull blues, tempered yellows, and flashes of orange and black, with hues varied and combined differently in each canvas. We follow the progression of colors across the surface, noting the changes that make the verticals shift and jostle. While the essential format remains the same, the differing chromatic relationships and the bars’ subtle shifts away from verticality give each painting an individual rhythm and mood. Mason was largely underrated and ignored for much of her working life, but things are changing. A major monograph was published last year, when Washburn mounted a virtual mini-retrospective, and auction prices, I’m told, have risen dramatically. That’s good news if you care about the history of modern art in America.