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(1928 – 2011), USA

Helen Frankenthaler Biography

Helen Frankenthaler has long been recognized as one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. The paintings in her first solo exhibition of 1951, at age twenty-two, synthesized the most radical aspects of the work of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Arshile Gorky, with canvases of textured surfaces, washed with pale color, and articulated by calligraphic drawing. The following year, she painted Mountains and Sea, a breakthrough composition created by pouring thinned paint onto unsized canvas so that the paint soaked into the canvas, staining rather than coating, to become at once the coloring and the drawing.

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The 1950s saw the beginning of Frankenthaler's mature style as she gave full rein to color beyond the ordinary, freedom of composition, absolute candor in the means of the making, and an ambiguous figuration with "a sort of symbolically garden quality," as she put it. By 1960 her work had become sparer and brighter—like much New York School painting—and linearity soon almost disappeared as shaped-areas of color dominated. By the mid-1960s, she had established the polarity across which she would work with such fecundity for the next forty years: painterly drawing and shape-making, both of which contributed to the ambiguity of reference and the creation of pictorial space. For much of the 1970s the two sides were frequently counterpointed, but by 1976–77 shape and area had become dominant. A decade later, the counterpoint was reasserted and it continued until her painting slowed and finally ended in the early years of this century. Her final canvas was painted fifty years after Mountains and Sea.

In addition to painting on canvas and on paper, Frankenthaler made sculptures, ceramics, and set designs, but the medium that most attracted her was printmaking—in particular the creation of woodcuts—hers counting among the greatest of contemporary works in that medium.

Frankenthaler's first retrospective was at the Jewish Museum, New York in 1960. Subsequent surveys included the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1969; and international tour) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (1989; and tour). In addition to the many essays and articles on her work, she was the subject of three monographs: Frankenthaler by Barbara Rose (1972); Frankenthaler by John Elderfield (1989–90); and Frankenthaler: A Catalogue Raisonné of Prints 1961–1994 by Suzanne Boorsch and Pegram Harrison (1996).

Her work is represented in the permanent collections of many institutions worldwide, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

Helen Frankenthaler Featured Artworks

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Bay Area Tuesday III by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerBay Area Tuesday III, 1982Monotype with oil and acrylic on handmade embossed paper
61 x 71.1 cm
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Gazelli Art House
Sacrifice Decision by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerSacrifice Decision, 1981Acrylic on canvas
136.5 x 301 cm
Gagosian Contact Gallery
Shippan Point: Twilight by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerShippan Point: Twilight, 1980Acrylic on canvas
180.3 x 139.7 cm
Gagosian Contact Gallery
Tunis II by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerTunis II, 1978Acrylic on canvas
241.3 x 290.8 cm
Gagosian Contact Gallery
Dream Walk Red by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerDream Walk Red, 1978Acrylic on canvas
149.9 x 262.9 cm
Gagosian Contact Gallery
White Joy by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerWhite Joy, 1981Acrylic on canvas
134.6 x 177.8 cm
Miles McEnery Gallery Contact Gallery
Rio Grande by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerRio Grande, 1987Acrylic on canvas
72 x 72 inches
Miles McEnery Gallery Contact Gallery
Basin by Helen Frankenthaler contemporary artwork
Helen FrankenthalerBasin, 1979Acrylic on canvas
132.1 x 269.2 inches
Miles McEnery Gallery Contact Gallery

Helen Frankenthaler Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, American Pastoral at Gagosian, London
Closed
23 January–14 March 2020 Group Exhibition American Pastoral GagosianBritannia Street, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, 9th St. Club at Gazelli Art House, London
Closed
17 January–23 February 2020 Group Exhibition 9th St. Club Gazelli Art HouseLondon
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Continuing Abstraction at Gagosian, Basel
Closed
10 June–13 July 2019 Group Exhibition Continuing Abstraction GagosianBasel

Helen Frankenthaler Represented By

Gagosian contemporary art gallery in 980 Madison Avenue, New York, USA Gagosian New York, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, London, Paris, Le Bourget, Geneva, Basel, Rome, Athens, Hong Kong

Helen Frankenthaler In Ocula Magazine

Sotheby's Kickstarts Big Auction Season for Joan Mitchell Ocula News Sotheby's Kickstarts Big Auction Season for Joan Mitchell New York, 1 July 2020

The American painter sold well during her lifetime, but it's only in recent years that her prices have begun to catch up to those of her peers.

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How Auction Houses are Approaching Their Crucial Summer Sales Ocula News How Auction Houses are Approaching Their Crucial Summer Sales New York, 25 June 2020

Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips and Bonham's have changed what they're selling and how they're selling it for major auctions taking place over the next two weeks.

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Helen Frankenthaler In Related Press

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Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell: The Art of Marriage Related Press Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell: The Art of Marriage 28 November 2019, The Brooklyn Rail

The cover photograph for the informative catalogue that accompanies this dazzling show was taken by Hans Namuth and catches Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler at their wedding lunch on April 6, 1958. Her look is all love; Motherwell, averting his gaze from Namuth, has a vacant, slightly ironic expression. Was it because he'd already been...

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How Helen Frankenthaler’s Coastal Escapes Shaped Her Paintings Related Press How Helen Frankenthaler’s Coastal Escapes Shaped Her Paintings 11 September 2019, Hyperallergic

WATER MILL, New York — In Provincetown Window (1963–64), Helen Frankenthaler abstracted a familiar object. In doing so, she established a delicate balance of color and space. Orbs of blue, green, orange, and yellow acrylic radiate within a royal blue windowpane. Patches of unpainted canvas allow the saturations to shine more brightly.

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How Helen Frankenthaler made her mark on the world of printmaking Related Press How Helen Frankenthaler made her mark on the world of printmaking 21 August 2019, Apollo

Looking at the huge, colour-saturated prints by Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) currently on display at Princeton University Art Museum will lift your spirits, and may make you dance right there – or return home to try your hand at printmaking. For Frankenthaler turned upside down the long-held, demanding rules for etching, lithography and other...

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Gagosian to go off-piste with first pop-up show during Art Basel Related Press Gagosian to go off-piste with first pop-up show during Art Basel 4 June 2019, The Art Newspaper

Last year, Gagosian introduced an innovative virtual online viewing room during Art Basel. This year, the gallery is creating another sales platform during the Swiss fair, this time taking a bricks and mortar approach with an off-site pop-up exhibition titled Continuing Abstraction (10—16 June).

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