For its 2017 Laura Owens retrospective, the Whitney museum presented, alongside her paintings, an exhaustive catalogue of the artist’s life: 663 pages of photographs, clippings, notes from friends, exhibition plans, and bits of inspiration. One fascinating document was a memoir written by Owens’s mother, in which she recalls suggesting to a teenage Owens that she might teach art to children as a career. Her daughter tearfully replied, “Don’t you think you’ll ever see my art in a museum?” Owens and her work emerged in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, a time when paintings were not particularly popular with critics. Through a blend of abstraction and figuration, an avant-garde sensibility that was also attuned to popular culture, and an eye for both technology and traditional craft, she helped restore critical interest in her chosen medium—and ended up in the Whitney. Owens is now among the most influential artists of her generation. Following these successes, she has also rethought her mother’s advice. This year, Owens returned to her home state of Ohio to collaborate with nine high school students on an exhibition of their works, plus some of her own. —C.J.F.
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