Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea (1952), Courtesy Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc., on extended loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. © 2013 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
In 1951, at the age of twenty-two, American painter Helen Frankenthaler appeared in her first solo exhibition in New York. It was a fitting introduction to the artist, who, over the next ten years, developed a uniquely evocative style that would define her as a major talent of mid-twentieth century New York City. Sixty years later, Gagosian Gallery is exhibiting some of Frankenthaler’s works from this decade, showcasing the creative practice of the artist’s pivotal early years, and offering perspective on her ever-evolving style.
Incorporating the frenetic energy and abstract explorations of contemporaries Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning into her own unique canvases, Frankenthaler defined herself as a relentlessly innovative talent, pioneering new techniques in the approach and technique of abstract expressionism. Running in chronological order, Gagosian Gallery offers a studied perspective on Frankenthaler’s artistic development, moving from the sharply colored, densely-filled canvases of the artist’s early years through to the more loosely composed works of the late 50’s, which synthesized her abstract forms with her new staining techniques to create new layers of shade and tint within the frame of the canvas. Allowing the splatter or color block to take on new complexities, Frankenthaler opened the door to a more nuanced, complex view of abstract painting.
As the show continues, the viewer becomes aware of Frankenthaler’s developing sense of movement and flow, embracing the movement of her paints across the paper, and emphasizing the start or stop of movement, the brief pause between lines. Her work speaks to the creation of itself in a way that other painters of the time struggled to express, using the stain of paint as a way to denote a pause in action, a moment of decision, or a flash of reckless abandon. The density and concentration of paint in any point on the canvas becomes a pooling or explosion of movement, creating a map of Frankenthaler’s process while confounding the viewer with its juxtaposition to other forms. At certain points, the viewer can sense a moment of pause, of consideration for the work as it reveals itself.
Exploring the early years of the influential painter, Gagosian Gallery’s current exhibition of work by Helen Frankenthaler is a strong look at the developing approaches to abstract painting during the 1950’s, while highlighting the artist’s delicate aesthetic language and unique approach. Painted on 21st Street is on view until April 15th.
Helen Frankenthaler, Mother Goose Melody (1959), Courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Gift of Sydney and Frances Lewis. © 2013 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photography © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Gagosian Gallery [Exhibition Site]