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Goings on About Town: “Labyrinth of Forms”

Borrowing its name from a 1945 aquatint etching by Alice Trumbull Mason, this exhibition at the Whitney features abstract works on paper from the museum’s collection, all made by women between 1930 and 1950. Few of these artists gained the attention they clearly deserved, despite working in a variety of established European modernist vernaculars. The biomorphic geometries in Trumbull Mason’s “Labyrinth of Closed Forms,” a striking grisaille composition, have affinities with the playful, floating shapes of Alexander Calder and Joan Miró; a lithograph by the mononymous Elise, “Untitled (Abstract, Ovoids and Lines),” from 1935, presents a Futurist fragment of mysterious origin, architectural or maybe mechanical. The great Lee Krasner’s colorful “Still Life,” from 1938—which, despite its name, looks purely abstract—is a breezy outlier, foreshadowing the all-over painting technique that would soon be favored by her fellow Abstract Expressionists. The modest size of the works on view lends them a collective air of distilled intensity, and the startling number of unfamiliar names adds an aura of melancholy.