ON AIR
00:00:00 | 3:02:50

DONATE!

close

FROM THIS EPISODE

If you think it is hard to make it as a woman artist today, consider the macho 1950s when Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) first gained attention. Against a background dominated by Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionist painters revered by critic Clement Greenberg, who was her significant other at the time, Frankenthaler pioneered a method of pouring thinned paint on raw canvas that took things in a different and, some said at the time, more feminine direction.  

PinkFirld-RobMcKeever.jpg
Helen Frankenthaler, "Pink Field," 1962
Acrylic on canvas 23 3/4 x 58 inches (60.3 x 147.3 cm)
© 2016 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photography by Rob McKeever / Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Since her death, Gagosian Gallery has staged a number of shows furthering a reevaluation of her career. The most recent, organized by art historian John Elderfeld, considered an expert on her work, offers an overview of Frankenthaler: Line Into Color, Color into Line, Paintings 1962-1987.  

Parade-RobMcKeever.jpg
Helen Frankenthaler, "Parade," 1965
Acrylic on canvas 73 x 56 1/2 inches (185.4 x 143.5 cm)
© 2016 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photography by Rob McKeever / Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

This show focuses on the relationship between drawing and painting as it evolved over the decades, the ways in which the line contained or was independent of the painted forms. Frankenthaler used color with abandon at a time when there was a certain amount of hesitancy about any gesture that might be considered frivolous or sentimental. But she didn’t lose her sense of structure, her notion of how to build a painting so that it appeared a casual affair but in fact was carefully considered. Drawing was a part of that discipline.

Mornings-RobMcKeever.jpg
Helen Frankenthaler, "Mornings," 1971
Acrylic and marker on canvas 116 x 73 inches (294.6 x 185.4 cm)
© 2016 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photography by Rob McKeever / Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

In terms of perception, Frankenthaler had more than her gender taken into consideration. Her well-to-do family, Ivy League education, good looks, good taste and good manners set her apart from less fortunate peers. She had a five year love affair with the powerful Greenberg, who introduced her to her first gallery, Tibor de Nagy, and later a 13-year marriage to artist Robert Motherwell. These tidbits of biography worked for and against her in an art world then skeptical of privilege. In a way, Frankenthaler had to work harder to overcome the perception that she was a lucky woman, not a talented one. Today, she is considered a pivotal figure, important to the transition from brushy 1950s Abstract Expressionism to the flowing hues in 1960s Color Field painting.  

Rapunzel-RobMcKeever.jpg
Helen Frankenthaler, "Rapunzel," 1974
Acrylic on canvas 108 x 81 inches (274.3 x 205.7 cm)
© 2016 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photography by Rob McKeever / Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Subsequent generations of artists have openly stated that Frankenthaler and Color Field painting were influential. As their own reputations gained momentum, so did Frankenthaler’s. The heroine Paint: After Frankenthaler by curator and art historian Katy Siegel is a captivating book chronicling those connections. Published in 2015 by Gagosian, it includes a compilation of essays and statements by such artists including major contemporary talents Laura Owens, Sterling Ruby and Mary Weatherford. This new perspective adds to interpretations traditionally brought to Frankenthaler’s work.  You can bring your own perspective when you visit the show. It is on view through October 29. 

The heroine Paint

Katy Siegel

Subscribe to the Art Talk newsletter

Edward Goldman's take on what’s worth a visit in LA and sometimes beyond.

 

More From Art Talk

LATEST BLOG POSTS

Latest From KCRW

View Schedule

Events

View All Events

iTUNES SPOTIFY
AMAZON RDIO
FACEBOOK TWITTER

Player Embed Code

COPY EMBED