Eleanore Mikus, an artist and professor who was in the vanguard of the late 1950s and 1960s and continued to produce work in new directions for more than 50 years, died Sept. 6 at her home in Ithaca. She was 90.
Her death, was confirmed by her daughter, Gabrielle Burns.
Ms. Mikus was drawn to art at an early age, when she won first prize for her drawing of a farmyard scene in kindergarten. Later, the shy but determined young adult, who had braved the Depression, attended art classes at the School of Arts and Crafts in Detroit while in high school.
Her sweet face belied her dedicated nature as she pursued her artist career by completing her undergraduate degree in art and art history at the University of Denver. And then in 1959 she took classes at the Art Students League and New York University. It was during the late 1950s where she created abstract Expressionist work, which showed her understanding of de Kooning and Kline. She had minor art shows in Texas, but Ms. Mikus's first solo art show was in 1960, at the Pietrantonia Gallery in New York, where she showed paintings of geometric shapes on sectional canvases.
Ms. Mikus's career took off in the 1960s, and for a time she lived in Hells Hundred Acres, in Soho. There was a great deal of material wealth during that time. And from what she found she began to work with wood, and merge the different parts to make a whole painting. These Tablet works were introspective and Ms. Mikus said she called them Tablet because from an early age, when "we carry a tablet to write down our lessons, reference notes, memories, poetry, drawings, our private thoughts and even our doodles." Her experimental Tablet series were laminated on the back and made a new form of art that other artists could be influenced by.
She was in a group exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was at that time that follow artist Ad Reinhardt saw the show and he was impressed and insisted on meeting her; the two became friends. Ms. Mikus also showed in the Pace Gallery, first in Boston and later in New York. She began her "paperfold" series," (the term she used for her works of folded paper), and which began an important part of her creative series.
Ms. Mikus began teaching at Cooper Union in 1971, taught and lived in England from 1973 to 1976, then returned to New York City.
Ms. Mikus changed the nature of her art again according to author and former art history professor Robert Hobbs, when she began using child-like brush strokes and painting boats, planes, trains and dragons, which was influenced by the artist Paul Klee and similar to Jean Dubuffet's playful style. It was Ivan Karp of OK Harris Gallery who showed her new work and she had four solo shows from 1971 to 1974.
But by the 1980s, when Neo-Expressionism was highly popular, Ms. Mikus returned to making abstract works on canvas and developing her paperfolds. And for more than two decades, she remained mostly unknown to the general public, until 2006, when the unexpected happen, and she had a major exhibition at the Drawing Center. The show was curated by Luis Camnitzer and highlighted 150 works from 1959-2006, and according to one reviewer from the New York Times, Mikus's work has "a still, quiet patience and a devotion to process that can be felt in nearly every work." Ms. Mikus followed up with another exhibition - this time at the Marbrough Gallery.
In 2017, Ms. Mikus's art was featured at the Craig Starr Gallery. And according to John Yau of Hyperallergic, "[s]he brought together nuance and structure, making them (the art work) into a subtly captivating experience."
Ms. Mikus stated that "I always experimented. I still do - I think I would stop working if I had to stay still."
Eleanore Mikus's innovating art work is in the permanent collections of a number of museums including The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England. And her work has also been the subject of numerous articles and publications.
Ms. Mikus is survived by her sister Virginia Wenzel, and her three children, Gabrielle Burns, Hillary Burns (Kamischke), and Richard Burns, Jr.
Published in Ithaca Journal on Oct. 14, 2017.