Newark, NJ, USA
New York Times critic, professor at Cooper Hewitt and scholar of the New York School of art. Aston was the daughter of Ralph Neil Ashton and Sylvia Smith Shapiro (Ashton). Her father was a medical doctor. She obtained a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1949, continuing for an M.A. at Harvard University the following year. Ashton began her career as associate editor of the magazine Art Digest, published in New York beginning in 1951. She married Adja Yunkers (d.1983), an artist, in 1953. Ashton became associate art critic for the New York Times in 1955 and reviewed shows of the so-called first and second "New York School" of artists. Her sympathies toward Abstract Expressionism rankled the senior art critic of the Times, John Canaday, and when criticism of his anti-modernist stance mounted, she was fired in 1960 to consolidate his stance. Ashton then lectured at the Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, between 1962-1963 before an appointment at the School of Visual Arts, New York City, as a lecturer in philosophy of art. She was awarded the Frank J. Mather Award for art criticism from the College Art Association in 1963, followed by a Guggenheim fellowship in 1964. Ashton headed the department of humanities at the School of Visual Arts from 1965 to 1968. In 1969 she was appointed professor of art history at Cooper Union, New York City. In 1973 she published her history of the artists of Abstract Expressionism, The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning (the book had appeared the year before in England as The Life and Times of the New York School). During these same years she lectured as an Instructor at the City University of New York in 1973 and at Columbia University in 1975. She joined the New School for Social Research in 1986. Ashton received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 1980. Her 1983 personal portrait of Mark Rothko, About Rothko, remains a revealing work on the artist. In 1985 she remarried to Matti Megged. Ashton formed a part of the New York art critics who embraced and championed the New York School, whose members also included Harold Rosenberg, Thomas B. Hess and Barbara Rose. She knew the artists personally and wrote of their work from personal experience as much as the art itself.
[collected essays:] Out of the Whirlwind: Three Decades of Arts Commentary. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987; The Unknown Shore: a View of Contemporary Art. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962; A Reading of Modern Art. Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969; The Life and Times of the New York School. [published the following year as:] The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning. New York: Viking Press, 1973; A Fable of Modern Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1980; About Rothko. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Sandler, Irving. A Sweeper-up After Artists: a Memoir. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003, pp. 242.