Arts / Museums

Mickey on Our Mind

BY Catherine D. Anspon // 03.23.15

When Joyce Pensato and I met at the nonprofit DiverseWorks in Houston 18 years ago, she was an established mid-career artist who was at a static place in her career (at least with regards to the New York art world, despite garnering grand prizes such as a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award in 1997 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1996). During the press meet-and-greet back then, we connected over a case of spilled toys — her torn, paint-stained stuffed animals, poignant memories of childhood that struck a chord.

Her work, inspired by these kids’ tropes, somehow transcended them — beyond Pop, the black-and-white, large-scale paintings issued powerful statements about the American dream. When her 1997 show at DiverseWorks closed, she left behind a gift: two outdoor murals of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Over the years, Donald was painted over, but Mickey remains, still holding court along the docks (although DiverseWorks has since moved to Midtown).

Joyce Pensato
Joyce Pensato embraces success, after decades of being underknown. Shown: in her Bushwick studio. Courtesy NYTimes, photo Austin McManus.

In the early 2000s, we used to hang out in Chelsea, patrolling the galleries and trading tales about our mutual love for things others might perceive as corny — such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Pensato said it reminded her of her Dad and how much he loved this country.

Flash forward nearly a decade. After living in France, Pensato has moved back to in Brooklyn, her birthplace, and into the limelight with an important solo in a high-profile New York gallery. Catch “Castaway” at Petzel and revel in an important American painter who deservedly is getting rediscovered (through March 28). Now all that remains is a return Texas engagement for Miz Pensato, which we hope happens very soon.

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