Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown

"Flood," by Helen Frankenthaler (Whitney Museum of Art)
If you read the chronology of Helen Frankenthaler’s life at the current "Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown" show at the Parrish in Southampton, you will note that she moved into the London Terrace apartments at 470 West 24th soon after graduating from Bennington in l949. She had previously shared a studio at 232 East 21st Street. 173 East 94th was the address of the brownstone she moved into with Robert Motherwell. She lived there from 1958-1998, though she was divorced from Motherwell in l971. The current show is about work created in Provincetown like the monumental “Flood” (1967) but the "color field" sensibility is pure New York, including the dates which read like a CV of the New York School. Ironically, the London Terrace apartments, a brooding block through structure, exists at the edge of today’s high powered Chelsea art world. After Bennington Frankenthaler studied for a short time at Columbia with the art historian Meyer Schapiro and then met Clement Greenberg with whom she had an affair. Through Greenberg she met Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Friedal Dzubas, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock and David Smith. The romantic notion of the artist is one of solitudinous inner struggle. However, this current show depicts a collegial world. Frankenthaler and the artists in her circle were bound together by a greater project to which the general public was initially resistant. In l960 at the age of 32, Frankenthaler was already having a retrospective of her 50's work at The Jewish Museum. Frank O’Hara comments about the artist’s ambition in the catalogue for that show are quoted by the curators of the current exhibit thusly: “One of her strengths is the very ability to risk everything on inspiration, but one feels that her work is judged afterward by a very keen and erudite intelligence…(She is) a daring painter…willing to risk the big gesture, to employ huge formats so that her essentially intimate revelations may be more fully explored and delineated.”   

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