An early feminist, Lil Picard (1899-1994) was a fixture in the Downtown New York art world of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s as both artist and critic. Born Lilli Elisabeth Benedick in Germany, she worked as a cabaret actress, accessories designer, and journalist in the heady, avant-garde Berlin scene of the 1920s and ’30s. In 1937, with the rise of Nazism and the revocation of her press credentials due to her Jewish heritage, Picard emigrated with her husband to the United States.
After opening a custom millinery shop on Madison Avenue, Picard studied at the Art Students League and with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown. She began painting seriously in 1939 and was soon exhibiting in Greenwich Village’s Tenth Street galleries. Beginning in the 1950s, she took up writing again for German as well as local and national publications: her reports on the New York art scene helped shape European perceptions of American Pop art. With the advent of the 1960s, she moved away from her highly colored and collaged paintings toward sculpture and assemblage. Later she frequented Andy Warhol’s Factory and participated in Happenings and the nascent performance scene with much younger artists. Influenced early on by Brecht’s political satire, she addressed the trauma of the Vietnam War and created pointed critiques of mass-media manipulations of women.
Throughout her career, which spanned nearly a century, Picard incorporated autobiographical references–lifted from journals, snapshots, notes, and the detritus of her everyday life–into her art. Lil Picard and Counterculture New York is the first comprehensive museum survey of the work of this self-described “primitive sophisticated artist” and is drawn entirely from her estate and extensive archives at the University of Iowa.