Elizabeth Murray
Born(1940-09-06)September 6, 1940
DiedAugust 12, 2007(2007-08-12) (aged 66)
EducationSchool of the Art Institute of Chicago
Mills College
Known forPainting, printmaking
Notable workDo the Dance, Children Meeting, Painters' Progress, Careless Love, Blooming
SpouseDon Sunseri (div 1973) Bob Holman (1982–2007; her death)
AwardsMacArthur Foundation Grant, Larry Aldrich Prize

Elizabeth Murray (September 6, 1940 – August 12, 2007)[1] was an American painter, printmaker and draughtsman. Her works are in many major public collections, including those of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Pérez Art Museum Miami,[2] the Museum of Modern Art,[3] the Whitney Museum of American Art,[4] the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,[5] the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum. Murray was known for her use of shaped canvases.

Early life

Wiggle Manhattan, lithograph, 1992, Museum of Modern Art

Elizabeth Murray was born in Chicago, Illinois, United States to Irish-Catholic parents. Her father was a lawyer and her mother aspired to be a commercial artist. She encouraged her daughter to paint and with the help of her high school art teacher Murray entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1958 and graduated with a BFA in 1962.[6] She earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from Mills College in 1964.[7] As a student, she was influenced by painters ranging from Cézanne to Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.[8]


She taught art at Daemen College from 1965 to 1967. In 1967, Murray moved to New York City. She first exhibited in 1971 in the Whitney Museum of American Art Annual Exhibition. One of her first mature works included "Children Meeting," 1978 (now in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum), an oil on canvas painting evoking human characteristics, personalities, or pure feeling through an interaction of non-figurative shapes, colour and lines.[8] She is particularly noted for her shaped canvas paintings.[9] Falling, an earlier example of her shaped canvas from 1976 can be found in the collection of the Pérez Art Museum Miami.[10]

Awards and honors

She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998.[11] In 1999, Murray was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.[12] This grant led directly to opening of the Bowery Poetry Club, a Lower East Side performance arts venue run by her husband, Bob Holman.[13]

In 2006, her 40-year career was honored at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).[14] The retrospective was widely praised, with The New York Times noting that by the end of the exhibition, "You're left with the sense of an artist in the flush of her authority and still digging deep."[9] As of 2008, Murray was only one of five female artists to have had a retrospective at the MoMA—the other four are Louise Bourgeois (in 1982), Lee Krasner (in 1984), Helen Frankenthaler (in 1989), and Lee Bontecou (in 2004).[15]

Personal life

Murray married sculptor Don Sunseri in 1963 in San Francisco. Murray and Sunseri had met three years prior at the Art Institute of Chicago. Among the guests at their wedding was Murray's close friend and fellow artist, Jennifer Bartlett. Murray and Sunseri had one son together, Dakota Sunseri, before they eventually divorced. Murray was later married to poet and poetry activist Bob Holman, whom she met in 1980. They had two children, daughters Sophia Murray Holman and Daisy Murray Holman.[1] The couple remained together, splitting time between New York City and their farm in Washington County, New York, until Murray's death.


In 2007, Murray died of lung cancer. In her obituary, The New York Times wrote that Murray "reshaped Modernist abstraction into a high-spirited, cartoon-based, language of form whose subjects included domestic life, relationships and the nature of painting itself ..."[1] The Bowery Poetry Club held a Praise Day in her honor on August 30, 2007, with artists Brice Marden and Joel Shapiro, writers Jessica Hagedorn and Patricia Spears Jones, and choreographers Elizabeth Streb and Yoshiko Chuma among the attendees; Artforum described the event as "a blend of the poignant and the comic that threatened to bring it closer to a Saturday Night Live skit shredding avant-garde performance practice than an actual art-world remembrance."[16] A second private memorial was held at the Museum of Modern Art later that Fall. Murray was survived by her husband and three children.[1]

Legacy: art and feminism

Murray’s curatorial gesture would seem to have constituted a partial change of heart from her... previously self-contained feminism. It is important, though that her strategy for convincing was exhibiting––bringing images out of the shadows... As with the Abstract Expressionist record, so with MoMA, where far more works by women sit in storage than are on display.

— Robert Storr[17]

After Murray's death, the A. G. Foundation, Columbia University, and the Archives of American Art established the "Elizabeth Murray Oral History of Women in the Visual Arts Project," to honor her memory. The A. G. Foundation's Agnes Gund said of her,

"It seems so right to honor Elizabeth Murray by archiving the lives, the thoughts, the dreams and goals of other women who—like herself—persisted in the visual arts, extending and enriching the world through their work," said the A. G. Foundation's Agnes Gund.[18]

Artist residency

The Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency (EMAR) program by Collar Works, offers residencies to a diverse group of emerging and established artists and artists as parents. Collar Works is a non-profit art space in Troy, NY. The residency is an immersive, supportive, productive, and communal atmosphere for art-making and dialogue on a bucolic 77-acre farm in Washington County, NY. In 2017, the Murray-Holman family partnered with Collar Works to design a summer residency program for visual artists. Bob Holman was Elizabeth Murray's husband. The farm served as a summer home for the Murray-Holmans and her studio was located in the cathedral-like dairy barn. The family felt that the creative use of the property and natural surroundings would carry on Elizabeth Murray's legacy.[19][20]

EMAR is a no-cost to attend, fully supported residency program accommodating 5-7 artists per week. Artists have the time and space to develop new works, with the opportunity for conversation with peers. There is 24- hour access to semi-private studios, artist stipends and private bedroom accommodations.[21]


Everybody Knows...Elizabeth Murray, a film by Kristi Zea, exploring Murray's life and work, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016.[22][23]


  1. ^ a b c d Smith, Roberta. "Elizabeth Murray, 66, Artist of Vivid Forms, Dies", The New York Times, 13 August 2007. Retrieved 16 April 2008.
  2. ^ "Falling • Pérez Art Museum Miami". Pérez Art Museum Miami. Retrieved 2023-05-24.
  3. ^ The Collection: Elizabeth Murray (American, 1940–2007), moma.org
  4. ^ "Whitney Museum of American Art: Elizabeth Murray: Children Meeting". collection.whitney.org. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  5. ^ Elizabeth Murray - American Abstract Painter, 1940-2007, artcyclopedia.com
  6. ^ Heartney, Eleanor; Nochlin, Linda (2013). After the revolution: women who transformed contemporary art. Munich; London; New York: Prestel. ISBN 9783791347554. OCLC 959190766.
  7. ^ mills.edu Notable Graduates Archived 2008-05-11 at the Wayback Machine, Mills College, Mills.edu
  8. ^ a b Grove Dictionary of Art, Macmillan Publishers, 1996, ISBN 1-884446-00-0
  9. ^ a b Kimmelman, Michael (October 21, 2005) New York Times "ART REVIEW; Stirring Up a Commotion on Canvas" October 21, 2005
  10. ^ "Falling • Pérez Art Museum Miami". Pérez Art Museum Miami. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  11. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter M" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
  12. ^ 1999 MacArthur Foundation Awards, infoplease.com
  13. ^ Aptowicz, Cristin O'Keefe. (2008). Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam. "CHAPTER 26: What the Heck Is Going On Here; The Bowery Poetry Club Opens (Kinda) for Business." Soft Skull Press. ISBN 1-933368-82-9.
  14. ^ Exhibition: Elizabeth Murray, October 23, 2005–January 6, 2006, MoMA
  15. ^ New York Times "A Visit With the Modern's First Grandmother" By CAROL KINO. Published: October 2, 2005.
  16. ^ Remembering Murray, ARTFORUM, August 30, 2007.
  17. ^ Robert Storr, Elizabeth Murray NY: Museum of Modern Art, 2005 pg 18
  18. ^ "Elizabeth Murray Oral History of Women in the Visual Arts Project". Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
  19. ^ "EMAR". Collar Works. Retrieved 2024-02-14.
  20. ^ "Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency". Elizabeth Murray. Retrieved 2024-02-14.
  21. ^ "Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency by Collar Works | Artist Communities Alliance". artistcommunities.org. Retrieved 2024-02-17.
  22. ^ "Film Forum · EVERYBODY KNOWS... ELIZABETH MURRAY-with-THE 100 YEARS SHOW". Filmforum.org. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  23. ^ "Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray Premieres at Tribeca: A Talk With Director Kristi Zea". The Huffington Post. 24 April 2016. Retrieved 2017-03-15.