A line, color, shapes, spaces, all do one thing for and within themselves, and yet do something else, in relation to everything that is going on within the four sides [of the canvas]. A line is a line, but [also] is a color. . . It does this here, but that there. The canvas surface is flat and yet the space extends for miles. What a lie, what trickery—how beautiful is the very idea of painting.
Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011), whose career spanned six decades, has long been recognized as one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. Heir of first-generation Abstract Expressionism, she brought together in her work—with prodigious inventiveness and singular beauty—a conception of the canvas as both a formalized field and an arena for gestural drawing. She was eminent among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is widely credited for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting. One of the foremost colorists of our time, she produced a body of work whose impact on contemporary art has been profound.
Frankenthaler, daughter of New York State Supreme Court Justice Alfred Frankenthaler and his wife, Martha (Lowenstein) Frankenthaler, was born in December 1928, and raised in New York City. She attended the Dalton School, where she received her earliest art instruction from Rufino Tamayo. In 1949 she graduated from Bennington College, where she was a student of Paul Feeley, following which she went on to study briefly with Hans Hofmann.
Frankenthaler’s professional exhibition career began in 1950, when Adolph Gottlieb selected her painting Beach (1950) for inclusion in the exhibition titled Fifteen Unknowns: Selected by Artists of the Kootz Gallery. Her first solo exhibition was presented in 1951, at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and she was also included that year in the landmark exhibition 9th St. Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. Renowned art critic Clement Greenberg recognized her originality, and her work soon went on to garner growing international attention. As early as 1959 she began to be a regular presence in major international exhibitions, and in 1960 she had her first museum retrospective, at the Jewish Museum, in New York.
In 1952 Frankenthaler created Mountains and Sea, a seminal, breakthrough painting of American abstraction. Pioneering the “stain” painting technique, she worked by pouring thinned paint directly onto raw, unprimed canvas laid on the studio floor, working from all sides to create floating fields of translucent color. Mountains and Sea was immediately influential for the artists who formed the Color Field school of painting, notable among them Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Thereafter, Frankenthaler remained a defining force in the development of American painting.
Throughout her long career, Frankenthaler experimented tirelessly, and, in addition to unique paintings on canvas and paper, she worked in a wide range of media, including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and especially printmaking. Hers was a significant voice in the mid-century “print renaissance” among American abstract painters, and she is particularly renowned for her woodcuts. She continued working productively through the opening years of this century.
Frankenthaler’s distinguished and prolific career has been the subject of numerous monographic museum exhibitions, including—in addition to the 1960 Jewish Museum show—major retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and European tour, in 1969; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and tour, in 1985 (works on paper); Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, and tour, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and tour, in 1993 (prints); Naples Museum of Art, Florida, and tour, including the Yale University Art Gallery, in 2002 (woodcuts); and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, traveled to the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, in 2003 (works on paper).
Recent major exhibitions have included Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner, presented by Turner Contemporary, Margate, England, in 2014, which featured works by Turner alongside twenty-four paintings by Frankenthaler; Giving Up One’s Mark: Helen Frankenthaler in the 1960s and 1970s, organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, in cooperation with the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation (2014–15); and Pretty Raw: After and Around Helen Frankenthaler, which reconsidered the history of modern art and its renewed meaning for contemporary artists, presented by the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in 2015. Her work is regularly included in group exhibitions, with 2016 highlights including the Denver Art Museum’s Women of Abstract Expressionism; and Abstract Expressionism, organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Important works by Frankenthaler may be found in major museums worldwide. She was the recipient of numerous honorary doctorates, honors, and awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 2001; served on the National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1985 to 1992; was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1974–2011), where she served as Vice-Chancellor in 1991; and was appointed an Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2011.
After Abstract Expressionism, 1959–1962
June 9–September 16, 2017
Line into Color, Color into Line
Helen Frankenthaler, Paintings, 1962–1987
September 16–October 29, 2016
Composing with Color: Paintings 1962–1963
September 11–October 18, 2014
980 Madison Avenue, New York
Painted on 21st Street
Helen Frankenthaler from 1950 to 1959
March 8–April 13, 2013
West 21st Street, New York
From the Quarterly
Helen and High Water
John Elderfield shares part of his lecture, prepared on the occasion of the exhibition Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown.
Helen Frankenthaler at the Clark Art Institute
Phyllis Tuchman on the critical role of scale in Frankenthaler’s art practice.
John Elderfield and Lauren Mahony discuss Helen Frankenthaler and her work from 1959 to 1962.
Helen Frankenthaler: Line into Color, Color into line
To mark the occasion of the exhibition Line into Color, Color into Line: Helen Frankenthaler, Paintings, 1962–1987, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation and Gagosian produced a video of rare archival footage of Frankenthaler on the subject of line and color.
After Frankenthaler: An Interview with Katy Siegel
Art historian Katy Siegel discusses her recent exhibition at the Rose Art Museum and publication “The heroine Paint”: After Frankenthaler with Gagosian’s Alison McDonald.
John Elderfield and Elizabeth Smith
John Elderfield and Elizabeth Smith discuss the paintings of Helen Frankenthaler on the occasion of Helen Frankenthaler: Composing with Color, Paintings 1962–1963.
Fairs, Events & Announcements
Online Viewing Room
Frieze London 2018
October 1–10, 2018
Coinciding with the gallery’s presentations at Frieze London and Frieze Masters, the Online Viewing Room will feature works that will be available exclusively online by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, Sterling Ruby, and Jonas Wood.
The Frieze London Online Viewing Room will open at 12:00am on October 1 in Hong Kong, and close at 11:59pm on October 10 in Los Angeles and San Francisco (see below for dates and times in cities where Gagosian has gallery locations).
Online Viewing Room opens:
12:00am HKT on October 1 (Hong Kong)
7:00pm EEST on September 30 (Athens)
6:00pm CEST on September 30 (Geneva, Paris, Rome)
5:00pm BST on September 30 (London)
12:00pm EDT on September 30 (New York)
9:00am PDT on September 30 (Los Angeles, San Francisco)
Online Viewing Room closes:
2:59pm HKT on October 11 (Hong Kong)
9:59am EEST on October 11 (Athens)
8:59am CEST on October 11 (Geneva, Paris, Rome)
7:59am BST on October 11 (London)
2:59am EDT on October 11 (New York)
11:59pm PDT on October 10 (Los Angeles, San Francisco)
For more information about the Frieze London 2018 Online Viewing Room or the works that will be included, please contact email@example.com.
Sterling Ruby, WIDW. FLAME WAR., 2018 © Sterling Ruby. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer
Ninth Street Women
Mary Gabriel in Conversation with Deborah Solomon
Wednesday, October 3, 2018, 6:30pm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Mary Gabriel will speak about her new book, Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement that Changed Modern Art, published by Little, Brown and Company in 2018, with art critic and biographer Deborah Solomon. The book tells the story of five women artists who transformed the New York art world in the middle of the twentieth century. The discussion will be followed by a book signing and reception. To attend the event, purchase tickets at www.whitney.org.
June 14–17, 2018
Messe Basel, booth B11
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel 2018, presenting works by modern and contemporary artists including Georg Baselitz, John Chamberlain, Dan Colen, John Currin, Willem de Kooning, Urs Fischer, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellen Gallagher, Jennifer Guidi, Andreas Gursky, Neil Jenney, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Henri Matisse, Takashi Murakami, Giuseppe Penone, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Sterling Ruby, Richard Serra, Rudolf Stingel, Mark Tansey, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Mary Weatherford, and Tom Wesselmann. To receive a PDF with detailed information on the works, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org. To preview our booth go to www.artsy.net. To purchase tickets to attend the fair go to www.artbasel.com.
Georg Baselitz, Frau am Strand (Woman on the Beach), 1981 © Georg Baselitz 2018
Peindre la nuit
Through April 15, 2019
Centre Pompidou-Metz, France
This exhibition explores the night in modern and contemporary painting, music, literature, photography, and video. With a focus on the perception of night rather than its iconography, the exhibition intends to be a nocturnal experience. Work by Francis Bacon and Helen Frankenthaler is included.
Helen Frankenthaler, Star Gazing, 1989, collection of Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
© 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Helen Frankenthaler Prints
The Romance of a New Medium
April 20–September 3, 2018
Art Institute of Chicago
For nearly two decades Helen Frankenthaler produced prints at the Universal Limited Art Editions workshop. This exhibition presents more than fifty prints of Frankenthaler’s ULAE productions along with rare and important loans, including proofs from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation that illustrate the artist’s working methods and explore the evolution of an image from initial idea to final published edition.
Helen Frankenthaler, First Stone, 1961, working proof 2 © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), West Islip, New York
Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown
July 6–September 2, 2018
Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Massachusetts
In 1950, at the encouragement of art critic Clement Greenberg, Helen Frankenthaler studied briefly in Provincetown with Hans Hofmann. Following her marriage to Robert Motherwell in 1958, she spent more than a decade of summers living and working there. Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown will present key examples of Frankenthaler’s work, beginning with those made in that first summer at Hofmann’s studio school, and going on to focus on the period from the late 1950s through 1969. It will also feature photographs, letters, and memorabilia that shed light on the artist’s process, with an emphasis on the meaning of the place and its impact on her development as a painter.
Helen Frankenthaler, Provincetown Window, 1963–64 © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Tim Pyle, Light Blue Studio, courtesy Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
Helen Frankenthaler in
The Water Lilies: American Abstract Art and the Last Monet
April 13–August 20, 2018
Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris
In 1955, Alfred H. Barr Jr. brought one of Claude Monet’s large panels of Water Lilies into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. At that time, Monet’s work was presented as “a bridge between the naturalism of early Impressionism and the highly developed school of abstract art” in New York. This exhibition focuses on the precise moment when these paintings were rediscovered and the New York School was first being recognized. Included are a selection of some of Monet’s later works and some twenty major paintings by American artists. Work by Helen Frankenthaler is included.
Helen Frankenthaler, Milkwood Arcade, 1963 © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York