Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray

by Roger Walker-Dack

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday November 3, 2017

'Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray'
'Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray'  (Source:Courtesy Sidney Felsen / Kino Lorber)

The subject of the fascinating documentary "Everybody Knows... Elizabeth Murray," from Oscar nominated costume designer turned director Kristi Zea, is an extraordinary artist that, sadly, few outside the art world are familiar with. Hopefully, after this very affectionate portrait of her finds the audience it so deserves, Murray will get some of the recognition she is due. Even if that happens, it will sadly come a little late for her; shortly after she†became† one of a few women to ever be granted their own retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art, she died of lung cancer at the age of 66.

Murray was born in a small town in Illinois, into a† desperately poor household. It was Miss Stern, her high school art teacher, who recognizing how talented she was, going so far as to pay the fees for Murray to attend art college in Chicago. Miss Stern was the first of many women who would be there to help Murray through the years. In fact, the next one to step up to the plate was the influential Soho dealer Paula Cooper, who gave Murray her first New York show.

Several of the talking heads in the documentary, many of them artists, take great pains to explain how Murray's work could not be pigeonholed; she continually experimented in different genres, each time managing to put her own spin on them.†

If being a female artist trying to break through in a field which was regarded globally as a closed men-only world wasn't bad enough, Murray insisted on having a full family life, too.†When her first marriage failed, leaving her a single parent, she re-married; at the age of 40, she had two more children.† Juggling all her roles, however, didn't seem to faze her at all, and according to her offspring -- now adults -- they were used to their mother spending hours with them in her painting studio, enriching their young lives.

Zea's film includes several interviews with Murray herself as she prepares for the MOMA Show. Frail after aggressive medical treatments, she still shows a remarkable determination to work as often as she can. From all accounts it is the same spirit that she has nurtured throughout her life and career,†and while she pragmatically accepts that she never got her fair share of success and financial reward because she was a woman, there is not even a hint of bitterness or regret in her words.

Then there is her work itself. It is incredibly beautiful, passionate, and full of color.†As she got physically smaller due to her health, the actual art got bigger and more intricate. There is a wonderful scene when one of her latest pieces was being installed at the Venice Bienalle, and the curators jump for joy when they finally manage to hang this large cut-out work exactly right.

Murray's work is now in many of the most prestigious galleries such as the Guggenheim, the Whitney, and the Hirshhorn Museum, and this documentary will quite rightly having you make tracks to see them.†

The title of the film is also the name of the last piece of art that Murray was working on before she died. Now everybody actually does have a chance to know.


Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.