Skip to content
Back to List

May Stevens

May Stevens (b. 1924, Quincy, MA – d. 2019, Santa Fe, NM) was a feminist activist artist who came to prominence during the 1960s. Born in Quincy, MA, Stevens studied at the Massachusetts College of Art, the Art Students League, and the Academie Julian in Paris. She later taught at the School of Visual Arts, NY from 1961-1996. She was a founding member of Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics (1976). Stevens resided in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she moved in 1997 until her death.

From 1968-1997, Stevens and her husband, artist Rudolf Baranik (1920–1998), maintained studios in New York and exhibited widely. She began her first major painting series, Freedom Riders (with catalog essay by Martin Luther King, Jr.) in 1963. Other well-known painting series include Big Daddy (1967-76); Artemesia Gentileschi (1974-79); History Paintings (1974-81); Ordinary Extraordinary / Rosa Luxemburg and Alice Stevens (1976-91); Sea of Words (begun in 1990); and Rivers and Other Bodies of Water, (begun in 2001). Stevens made very few original prints throughout her career, but published six lithographs with Mary Ryan Gallery between 1998 and 2009.

She has received numerous awards including 10 MacDowell Colony residencies, a Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award (1990), Guggenheim Fellowship in painting (1986), National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in painting (1983), Andy Warhol Foundation residency (2001), and the Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement by the College Art Association (2001). Major publications include May Stevens, a monograph by Patricia Hills with introduction by Phyllis Rose (2005); May Stevens Catalog for Big Daddy Series with essay by Lawrence Alloway on the occasion of her solo show at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (1973); Lucy R. Lippard’s essay, “May Stevens’ Big Daddies,” which appeared in From the Center: Feminist Essays on Women’s Art (1976); May Stevens: Ordinary/Extraordinary, A Summation, 1977-1984, edited by Patricia Hills with essays by Donald Kuspit, Lucy Lippard, Moira Roth, and Lisa Tickner (1984); and May Stevens: Images of Women Near and Far published in conjunction with her retrospective at Museum of Fine Arts Boston (1999).

Stevens’s work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the British Museum, London; Brooklyn Museum, NY; deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; Hood Museum of Art, NH; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts, MO; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.

“May Stevens: Rosa Luxemburg, Paintings and Collages, 1976-1991," a solo exhibition featuring Steven's works on Rosa Luxemburg opened at RYAN LEE Gallery in October of 2019. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Arts Student League (2019), Smithsonian American Art Museum (2019), Detroit Institute of Arts (2019), Whitney Museum of American Art (2017), British Museum (2017), Brooklyn Museum (2017). In 1999, Stevens had a major retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, entitled Images of Women Near and Far 1983-1997, the museum’s first exhibition of its kind for a living female artist. In 2005, she had important traveling solo exhibitions at the Springfield Museum of Art, MO; the Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, NY. She was further featured in important solo exhibitions at the New Museum(1988) and Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum (1973).

Stevens’ paintings and original works are represented by RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.
Read more