Riverside-Nassau North Chapels

55 North Station Plaza, Great Neck, NY


Silvia Goldmith

September 16, 1929November 23, 2019

Silvia Goldsmith, a feminist artist, filmmaker and dancer who was at the forefront of the avant-garde in New York City in the 1960s and 70s, died Saturday night in New York City. She was 90 years old. Ms. Goldsmith, who went by the professional name Silvianna, was born on September 16, 1929 in New York City. She was initially interested in both dance and art and studied painting at the High School of Music and Art as well as dance with the famous modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. When she was 16, she visited her uncle, the anthropologist Oscar Lewis in Havana. After returning to her native New York, she decided three years later to return to Cuba. Having heard of Wifredo Lam, the early 20th century artist who blended cubism and surrealism with Afro-Cuban culture, she found his address, knocked on his door unannounced and introduced herself. Thus began a long, intense friendship in which Lam mentored her and brought her into the Cuban artistic scene, introducing her to Edmundo Desnoes, a young writer who later gained fame as a novelist and who became her lover. She returned to the United States after two years and entered the avant-garde art scene of Greenwich Village. Among her friends and colleagues were Maria Lassnig, an Austrian painter whose 1972 self-portrait included her friend Silvianna sitting next to her, and the counter-culture artist and critic Lil Picard, about whom she made a film. In 1973, Silvianna made the film The Transformation of Persephone, an experimental avant-garde work that was screened at the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna this month. A feminist activist as well as an artist, in 1969 Silvianna was a founding member of a group called Women Artists in Revolution or WAR. The artists’ collective, meeting in member’s lofts, became a leader in fighting for the rights of women artists. They organized provocative actions in galleries and museums, highlighting bias against women artists. They also published and distributed a newsletter, produced posters, wrote articles for journals and confronted museum representatives with lists of demands, including one to display more works by women. “Museums should encourage female artists to overcome the centuries of damage done to the image of the female as artist by establishing equal representation of the sexes in shows, museum purchases and on selection committees,” the group said. In November of the same year, as part of a sister organization called the Guerrilla Art Action Group, Silvianna participated in a theatrical protest against the Vietnam War at the Museum of Modern Art. Four activists entered the lobby with sacks of cow’s blood concealed under their clothes. They wrestled, spilling the blood upon the floor, and fell down writhing and moaning. They left shortly before the police arrived. In 1974 she was a founding member of Women/Artist/Filmmakers, Inc. an important experimental film collective. Ms. Goldsmith also taught English as a Second Language to immigrant high school students in the city’s public schools, a job she loved. Throughout her life she continued work as an artist, switching from paint and canvas to computer-generated art in recent years. Ms. Goldsmith is survived by her nephews Steven Skolnik of Scarsdale, New York, Dr. Paul Skolnik of Salem, Virginia and her beloved niece and nephews Kara, Lenny, Willie and Robbie, to whom she was the only “true aunt.”


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