Each December, Sager Braudis Gallery brings significant 20th-century masterpieces to Columbia, Missouri for the Masters Exhibit. This year's exhibit features women of Surrealism and Abstraction, who may just be the most important names in modern art history that you've never heard. In keeping with a current trend among museums and galleries worldwide, we're shedding light on the work of these master painters for whom credit is long overdue. In the coming weeks, we'll feature each of the 6 masters of the exhibit here on our blog, as well as in a 3-minute radio spot on our NPR affiliate, KBIA. Watch for the launch of our podcast, Portrait of the Artist, in which we'll also discuss the artists of the Masters Exhibit, in early December. This week, we're featuring American painter Juanita Guccione.
Juanita Guccione was born Anita Rice in 1904 outside of Boston. Her family relocated to New York when she was a teenager, and she went on to study at at the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League. After a stint of fashion modeling and design to earn money for travel, she left for Europe in her mid-twenties. Within the same year, 1931, she settled in an artists’ colony in Algeria. While there, she worked constantly, producing hundreds of paintings and drawings over three years. She had a son in 1934, and left the country with him when her relationship with his father ended shortly after his birth, eventually settling back in New York. The boy’s father was named Mabrouk, a name the artist took on after also changing her first name from Anita to Nita and then Juanita. Back in the US, she anglicized Mabrouk to Marbrook, and finally became Juanita Guccione when she married in 1943. It’s thought that her multiple name changes may be the reason that recognition alluded her, even though her work was very highly acclaimed during her lifetime
Guccione is usually referred to as a Surrealist, but her artistic career spanned more than six decades and her work ranged from very representational, if dreamlike, to fully abstract. The strong association with Surrealism probably doesn’t come so much from an affiliation with the Surrealist circle of artists as from her propensity to depict a fantasy realm.
The French writer and poet, Anais Nin, whose portrait Guccione painted several times, said, “Our dreams are often diffuse and fragmented. Juanita makes them cohesive and clear - as clear as the daily world. Few people can paint the world of our dreams with as much magic, precision, and clarity. It makes the myths by which we live as vivid and dramatic as our diurnal life.”
After her death in 1999, the artist’s son and his wife worked to place and preserve her enormous body of work. Algeria acquired a large number of pieces for its National Gallery of Art in 2004, further legitimizing work that had been highly appreciated but perhaps undervalued during Guccione’s lifetime.