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 it is a color.”
Gagosian is pleased to announce an exhibition of paintings by Helen Frankenthaler.
The exhibition comprises seventeen canvases by Frankenthaler from a twenty-five-year time span, selected to reveal how the renowned abstract painter articulated the relationship between drawing and color during this period. In her pioneering work of the 1950s, inspired by Jackson Pollock, Frankenthaler had poured both linear tracks and spreading areas of thinned paint onto unprimed canvas. She continued with this approach in the early 1960s, but with a difference: in paintings like Pink Field (1962), broad areas of color combine with linear elements so narrow as to seem drawn, resulting in canvases with no sense of division between the drawn and the painted. In such works as Parade (1965), she set aside the landscape association that had aided the cohesion of her earlier compositions in favor of an abstract parade of colored lines and areas. The contours of these areas, vividly contrasted against white canvas, look as much drawn as do the narrow, cursively shaped lines of paint.
In 1970, Frankenthaler reintroduced individual elements of drawing into her work. In paintings such as Mornings and Barbizon, she began by setting down large areas with drawn contours, before running slender graphic filaments across them. In later works of that decade, such as Rapunzel (1974), she carried this further by pre-painting the entire canvas with one color before setting down the drawing, together with color patches, on top. Then, in a group of paintings from 1976, which includes Blue Bellows and Sentry, she created the drawn elements by masking out strips of bare canvas close to the vertical edges of the works before applying a single color over them in a looser, more painterly fashion. Later that decade, in works like Mineral Kingdom (1976), she gave prominence to richly varied applications of paint, drawn over the surface with a variety of spreading tools. By the early 1980s, this led to the extraordinarily complex, visually stunning surfaces of Grey Fireworks (1982) and Brother Angel (1983), composed of swathes, areas, and clumps of paint, with drawn elements snaking among them.
The final section of the exhibition presents work from the mid-1980s in which Frankenthaler brought together several of the themes that she had been exploring over the preceding two decades: pre-painted, single-colored grounds, sometimes flatly painted, sometimes varied in application; filaments and broader tracks of drawing juxtaposed with discrete areas, some with cursively drawn contours; clumps of heavier and sometimes very heavy paint; and vertical formats with drawing that echoed the framing edges of the paintings. The exhibition concludes with five paintings from 1985 to 1987 that reflect these themes, conveying the sense of an artist at the height of her powers, consolidating her resources to create extremely original canvases that are both rigorous and sensuous.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, with a preface by John Elderfield and new essays by Yale University art historian Carol Armstrong and novelist Francine Prose.
This is the third exhibition of Helen Frankenthaler’s art to be presented by Gagosian, following Painted on 21st Street: Helen Frankenthaler from 1950 to 1959 (2013) at Gagosian West 21st Street and Helen Frankenthaler: Composing with Color, Paintings 1962–1963 at Gagosian Madison Avenue (2014).
From the Quarterly
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.
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.
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.
In homage to G. Bataille
June 1–July 28, 2018
After Abstract Expressionism, 1959–1962
June 9–September 16, 2017
Chamberlain, Frankenthaler, Heizer, Kiefer, Stella
August 21–October 3, 2015
West 21st Street, New York
In the Studio: Paintings
Curated by John Elderfield
February 17–April 18, 2015
West 21st Street, New York