Avital Exhibition Campaign

Above: Avital Sagalyn, painting in Otis, Mass., in the mid-1950s, with her niece.
Other photos pictured from left, both ink on paper, ca. 1940s: Abstract textile design; Boats at Provincetown Harbor.

Avital Sagalyn has been called an "undiscovered" great painter among 20th century artists. Despite gaining early notoriety in New York and Paris, she chose to keep her artworks largely private.

Until now. The University Museum of Contemporary Art in Amherst, Mass., held Avital's first solo art exhibition from October to December 2019, favorably reviewed by the Boston Globe . The curated retrospective featured 57 of her artworks dating back to the 1940s, including dozens that required professional restoration and framing. Thanks to your generous support through GoFundMe and other venues, Avital was able to defray her own retirement expenditures to foot restoration and framing costs for this public exhibition.

Avital's family published a museum-quality exhibition catalogue, available for purchase online at Blurb.com. The 106-page book, "Avital Sagalyn: A Life of Exploration ," features full-color images of all paintings, drawings, sculptures and textile designs in the 2019 exhibition, plus much additional content: Related pieces not yet shown publicly; essays about Avital's works, personal journey and vision as an artist; archival photos of her during the years covered by the retrospective; a full index of her catalogued works, and much more.

Pieces in the museum show included works from her early years as a Cooper Union art student, and as one of the first women to win a Fulbright Scholarship to study painting in Paris in 1949.

Many of Avital's other best artworks could not even be considered for this exhibition, because of the high cost of restoration and framing.

Just months after her first solo museum exhibition, Avital passed away in May 2020. The Boston Globe published a poignantobituary of an artist on the precipice of wider renown so late in life. Yet with your support, Avital's family could have many more of her decades-old works on paper and canvas restored and prepared for future exhibit. Plans are in the making for other shows, where we hope that yet more breathtaking portfolio pieces can be debuted publicly.

This lifelong artist's master works include haunting canvases painted as a teenage refugee in New York during World War II; the wharfs of Provincetown , Mass., reduced to an exquisite cacophony of ink strokes during her studies at Cooper Union; the post-war Notre Dame cathedral veiled by a Parisian haze; colorful cubist still lifes of fashion mannequins populating her Paris flat, which doubled as a couture fashion atelier during her Fulbright years; and, in the 1950s, mosques in Israel rendered black and white, saturated by blinding sun and dark shadow.

See these and hundreds of other pieces, along with videos of Avital discussing her art, on her website: avitalsagalyn.com

Avital's fascinating personal history spanned three continents. She was born to Russian émigré parents; Avital's maternal uncle in St. Petersburg was a nationally known poet. Avital spent most of her youth in Brussels. In 1940, Avital's family fled the Nazi invasion. After a year-long journey through France, Spain and Portugal, they settled in New York City.

In high school, Avital was selected to study at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA ). She graduated from Cooper Union in 1946 and subsequently painted in Paris for three years. There she befriended some of the preeminent artists of the time, among them Manuel Ángeles Ortiz, Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncusi.

Avital returned to a male-dominated “New York School ” art scene in the 1950s. Among her circle were abstract expressionist painters whose works are also now held in museum collections around the globe, including Willem de Kooning and Richard Pousette-Dart. Perhaps Avital's greatest artistic kinship at this time was with her college-years friend Reuben Tam, a native Hawaiian painter and poet living in New York.

Gallery owners in Paris and NYC offered Avital exhibitions but she declined, seeking to avoid the possibility that commercialization would affect her artistic vision and independence. The internet later allowed Avital to share her artwork on her own terms. (Check out Avital's midcentury textile designs and art reproductions on wearable art and notecards at ShopVIDA.com. Like your contribution to GoFundMe, all proceeds from Avital-designed giftware and cards, as well as from her exhibition catalogue, underwrite the preservation of her original artworks.)

The renowned MacDowell Colony artists' retreat in New Hampshire made Avital a resident fellow in 1952. It was here that Avital embarked on her exuberant still lifes with jugs, among other pieces. A number of these jug studies -- along with other works including Casey Key seashells , dead birds and Provincetown pieces -- are now available for purchase at the PULP Holyoke art gallery.

Avital taught painting and sculpture for children at MOMA in the 1950s-60s. In 1968, Avital moved with her young family to Amherst, Mass., where she served on a panel that hired Hugh Davies as the first director of the UMASS University Gallery and on another panel to select art for its collection. In a video interview , Davies recently termed Avital's works as "on a par with a lot of the very best artists making work both in Paris and in New York" in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"She was breaking new ground in her atmospheric paintings that combined cubism with lessons learned ... from the impressionists," said Davies, who went on to a 33-year career as director and CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. "It was a kind of abstraction that was always rooted in the real world ... in a way that was very refined and very appealing."

Now in the wake of Avital's first solo museum exhibition, the breadth and depth of her portfolio remain a largely unexplored treasure. The charitable gifts that allowed more than a dozen of her decaying paintings and drawings to be professionally restored have also laid the groundwork for fresh interest in Avital's newly discovered legacy, hidden away for decades. Your generosity now will allow Avital's family to share yet more of her extraordinary creative range, in the form of original artworks, directly with the public.
Become the first supporter

Your donation matters

GoFundMe protects your donation

We guarantee you a full refund for up to a year in the rare case that fraud occurs. See our GoFundMe Giving Guarantee.

See all


Avital Sagalyn Legacy
Arlington, VA

Your easy, powerful, and trusted home for help

  • Easy

    Donate quickly and easily.

  • Powerful

    Send help right to the people and causes you care about.

  • Trusted

    Your donation is protected by the  GoFundMe Giving Guarantee.