Toni LaSelle

Inman Gallery is pleased to present
Dorothy Antoinette LaSelle
Frieze Masters Spotlight Stand G20
Co-curated with Carrie Scott


Inman Gallery presents 
Dorothy Antoinette LaSelle
Frieze Masters Spotlight Stand G20
Co-curated with Carrie Scott

October 5th - 7th 2018

For the 2018 Frieze Masters Spotlight, the Inman Gallery is pleased to make the UK debut of the  work of American modernist Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle, (1901–2002).  Overlooked during her own lifetime by art historical cannons mostly because of her gender, LaSelle’s work is a stellar example of the vitality of non-objective painting at midcentury, and is fast becoming recognized alongside other abstract artists of the Post-War period.

Growing up in the American Midwest far from modern cultural centers, LaSelle was a voracious and intuitive student of modernism, profoundly influenced by Post-Impressionism and Cubism. Her Master’s thesis for her art history degree from the (University of Chicago, 1926)  focused on the indigenous masks of New Guinea in the Field Museum collection and their influence on the development of Cubism in Paris. After graduating, she traveled to Europe and spent six months studying in England, Italy, and France.

From 1928–1972, she lived in Texas and taught art and design at a university, while simultaneously exposing herself to the burgeoning concepts and processes of modernism. During sabbaticals and summers, LaSelle sought out teachers and mentors, the most influential being European émigrés Hans Hofmann and László Moholy-Nagy. She became an acknowledged expert on the new trends in art in her region, periodically giving museum lectures on Hofmann, Moholy-Nagy as well as other European artists. In 1942 Moholy-Nagy went to North Texas to teach workshops for LaSelle’s students, and facilitated a show at the Dallas Museum of Art for Hofmann in 1947.

During this time,her own practice began to garner attention. The Dallas Museum of Art mounted a solo exhibition of the artist’s charcoal drawings in 1948 and later included her work in group exhibitions along side the European avant-garde. LaSelle’s solo gallery exhibition in New York (1950) was well received, meriting critical praise. In 1959, the Ft. Worth Art Center mounted a major retrospective of LaSelle’s work, for which Hofmann wrote the foreword to the exhibition catalogue, praising the artist for her creative sensibilities.

Framed LaSelle 8 (1 of 1).jpg
Framed LaSelle 4 (1 of 1).jpg

For Frieze Masters, the Inman Gallery has collaborated with curator and art historian Carrie Scott to present work from the 1940s–1960s, a time of significant artistic transformation and maturity for LaSelle. The selection of works is exemplary of her exploration of space, color, and movement.

From 1944–1953, LaSelle studied closely with Hans Hofmann. The earliest painting in the booth, The Prodigal, 1948, shows LaSelle incorporating Hofmann’s teachings on harmonious balance, with both geometric and biomorphic shapes and lyrical color combinations. In a 1946 charcoal drawing, Figure, Space Planes, executed during a Hofmann class in New York, LaSelle experiments with positive and negative space, using erasure as a form of drawing. The artist articulates an intense volumetric space, rendering the three-dimensional flat on the surface of the paper.

She stated of the work at the time:
My drawings are Space and Movement Compositions. They can also be called Space-Time drawings. The plane of the paper, the planes in the drawings, and the space in the drawings are all one thing. They cannot be separated. It takes all three together to create a plastic unit out of a flat piece of paper. They look abstract but they are concrete. They look abstract if one tries to find a still life or a figure. They are concrete, however, expressions of forms and space unified to make new dimensions out of the plane of the charcoal paper. (Dallas Morning News, 1948)

From 1948 on, the depiction of volumetric space became less important and the relationships between objects in space became LaSelle’s primary focus. She describes our human relationship with space as seen from above in an essay titled “Are We Conscious?”:
Many people say that feeling space is one of the most pleasant sensations they can have. They like a view from a hill-top, they enjoy looking out over a town from a high building. From a high place everything between the horizon and one’s feet is set against a background. The space between things becomes as important as the things themselves. (LaSelle, “Are We Conscious?”)

Although many works retain a sense of the vertical plane, with gravity exerting its presence (e.g. Untitled (red triangle, 1953), increasingly, in the 1950s, the artist de-emphasized the notion of a horizon line, and the compositions began to resemble an aerial view. In Climate of the Heart #7, 1956, an almost fractal arrangement of objects is achieved, the figure-ground relationship completely abandoned.

Dorothy Antoinette (Toni) LaSelle was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, in 1901 and died in 2002 in Denton, Texas, just shy of her 101st birthday. She earned a BA from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1923 and an MA from the University of Chicago in 1926. After working briefly at Stephens College in Missouri, she traveled to Europe and spent six months studying in England, Italy, and France. What started as a temporary position at Texas State College for Women (now Texas Women’s University), in Denton, Texas, in 1928, turned into a full time position when she became responsible for development of the innovative art history program at the school. In her lifetime, two major museums acquired LaSelle’s work, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Since her passing, her work has entered the collections of the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection, Houston.