A chronicle of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of 20th century abstract painting—not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they worked, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and countless others to come.
... marvelous ... [Gabriel] is a gifted storyteller and a dogged researcher. She puts these gifts to excellent use in this panoramic take on the 20th century’s American art revolution ... Ninth Street Women masterfully unspools the biographies of its central cast and scores of supporting players, including the critic and starmaker Clement Greenberg, patron Peggy Guggenheim and writer Frank O’Hara. It takes us into their Greenwich Village haunts and hangouts, and it rummages through their relationships, too often fueled by alcohol and dizzying infidelities ... More than a compilation of biographical tales, Gabriel’s book is a reminder of the importance of women to an artistic genre long associated with masculinity. But it is also is a vivid portrait of the very nature of the artist. The stars of the era suffered and sinned as mortals, but their works — and their creative appetites — were otherworldly. Ninth Street Women gets us a just a little bit closer to their galaxy.
Ninth Street Women is supremely gratifying, generous and lush but also tough and precise—in other words, as complicated and capacious as the lives it depicts. The story of New York’s postwar art world has been told many times over, but by wresting the perspective from the boozy, macho brawlers who tended to fixate on themselves and one another, Gabriel has found a way to newly illuminate the milieu and upend its clichés ... There’s so much material roiling in Ninth Street Women, from exalted art criticism to the seamiest, most delicious gossip, that it’s hard to convey even a sliver of its surprises ... 'The stories told in this book might be a reminder that where there is art there is hope,' Gabriel writes in her introduction, but that wan, anodyne sentiment doesn’t do justice to the gorgeous and unsettling narrative that follows; it’s as if once Gabriel got started, the canvas before her opened up new vistas. We should be grateful she yielded to its possibilities.
Recent surveys at the Denver Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York have paid homage to their accomplishments, and now comes Mary Gabriel’s sweeping and deliciously readable Ninth Street Women ... These artists are material enough for 700-plus pages, but the author also weaves a vivid tapestry of bohemian life in New York as that city was supplanting Paris as the capital of the art world ... Ninth Street Women is like a great, sprawling Russian novel, filled with memorable characters and sharply etched scenes. It’s no mean feat to breathe life into five very different and very brave women, none of whom gave a whit about conventional mores. But Ms. Gabriel fleshes out her portraits with intimate details, astute analyses of the art and good old-fashioned storytelling.