Home Arts Gypsy Rose Lee’s Legacy Lives On As Her Works Remain Elusive

Gypsy Rose Lee’s Legacy Lives On As Her Works Remain Elusive

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It was during lockdown in 2020 that Jenna Segal, a New York theatrical producer, made it her mission to create a collection of works by the all-female cast of artists featured in Peggy Guggenheim’s landmark exhibition in his Manhattan gallery, Exhibition of 31 women (1943). The exhibition would have been the first devoted exclusively to women in the United States.

Over the past three years, Segal has scoured auction houses, art fairs, galleries and online marketplaces, acquiring 143 works by 30 of the women (a selection of which is on display this week at the former Guggenheim Gallery, which Segal rents, at 30 West 57th Street). But one artist remains elusive: Gypsy Rose Lee, burlesque performer, stripper and inspiration for the musical Gypsywho also produced paintings and collages.

“It was like Kim Kardashian was creating art and was in an exhibit, and then you could never find anything again,” Segal said. The arts journal. “The most famous woman of this era and her work evaporates, there is nothing left.” According to Gypsy’s son, Erik Lee Preminger, who lives in California, most of his works were bought by a friend of his but were destroyed in a fire.

The work by Gypsy that is said to have appeared in the Guggenheim exhibition – for which there is no title list, let alone photographic evidence – is a three-dimensional collage that features an image of the artist dressed in a Victorian bathing suit, his head replaced with that of a dog. The self-portrait, from 1942, also includes seashells, clip art and newspaper clippings documenting Gypsy’s career.

Gypsy Rose Lee with artwork likely to be the one included in the original Exhibition of 31 women in 1943 Credit: The 31 Women Collection

According to WorthPoint, an art research website, the work sold on eBay in 2007 for $1,000, after being sold by Sotheby’s in a 1971 sale of Gypsy’s estate.

Segal was unable to locate this self-portrait – however, his mandate is not to recreate the Guggenheim exhibit exactly (a nearly impossible task given the lack of documentation), but to collect the works of the artists included in the exhibition. Recently, the Broadway producer nearly found another work, Breast in a bowl, which Gypsy painted for her fourth husband. “A dealer contacted me about two months ago to tell me that he had found this painting. We were in discussion but the owner died,” says Segal.

With Gypsy’s art still out of reach, Segal instead acquired ephemera related to the burlesque dancer’s career, including two negatives she bought on eBay and an Arnold Newman photograph of Gypsy lying in front of the one of his paintings. The producer says she was offered a crocheted thong that supposedly belonged to Gypsy, but, with no proof of provenance, she declined.

“To me, Gypsy is literally like a striptease, she keeps throwing little crumbs. She shows me her shoulder and then she walks away,” Segal says. one of his works of art will totally depend on Gypsy. She is responsible.

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