Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


her home in Plainfield, N.J.” in March 1962.44
Levin believes that it was Sobel’s “isolation in New Jersey, her gender, and her allergies to paint [that] all contributed to her subsequent obscurity.”45 As Levin sees it, the Sobels’ move to New Jersey in 1947 (which Levin mistakenly says took place in 1946)46 allowed the Sobel men to be closer to their factory in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, “but Janet Sobel, who, like many women of her generation, had not learned to drive, was now farther from New York and the art world.”47 Given the facts that Sobel’s second solo exhibition in New York City, at Peggy Guggenheim’s famed gallery, Art of This Century, took place early in 1946 and that Sobel’s radio interview by Bill Leonard on CBS occurred in December 1946, it appears odd that Levin would contend that Sobel moved to New Jersey in 1946, a year in which she was noticeably not isolated from the New York art world. When Levin argues that Sobel’s gender was one of the three main causes of her later obscurity, Levin does not really explain why Janet Sobel’s being a woman ended her art world recognition except that it meant she could not drive. However, when Janet began to work at the Sobel Brothers factory in Perth Amboy right after her husband’s death in 1953, one must assume that she was able to travel regularly, back and forth, between Plainfield and Perth Amboy despite her inability to drive.

What seems to me even more important for understanding Janet Sobel’s motives for making art and possibly for explaining, in part, why the New York art world abruptly forgot her work is contained in her statement that she sent to Porter for the catalog of A Painting Prophecy, 1950: “I am interested in people and everything that pertains to them.”48 Her statement is short, succinct, and humanistic, but in it, Sobel unfortunately, does not identify herself as a visual artist, and so the statement differentiates her profoundly from the artistic and intellectual ambitions expressed in the statements of the exhibition’s twenty-one other artists, who included Robert Motherwell, Stuart Davis, William Baziotes, Adolph Gottlieb, Jackson Pollack [sic], Louise Bourgeois, I. Rice Pereira, Jimmy Ernst, and Mark Rothko.49 Sobel’s statement, however, shows a remarkable congruance with the humanistic title of a book that first appeared in 1952, Life Is with People: The Culture of the Shtetl, which Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a


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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009