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Then and Now: Lee Krasner’s Land of Her Own Invention

Lee Krasner shot by Irving Penn, Springs, New York, 1972. ©THE IRVING PENN FOUNDATION Like many female artists of her generation, Lee Krasner endured being known first and foremost as someone’s wife. From 1945 to 1956, Krasner was married to fellow Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. After Pollock died in 1956, and especially as Women’s Liberation…

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Then and Now: Lee Krasner’s Land of Her Own Invention

Lee Krasner shot by Irving Penn, Springs, New York, 1972.
©THE IRVING PENN FOUNDATION

Like many female artists of her generation, Lee Krasner endured being known first and foremost as someone’s wife. From 1945 to 1956, Krasner was married to fellow Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. After Pollock died in 1956, and especially as Women’s Liberation became a force during the ’70s, critics came to view Krasner differently, as a talent worth watching. With a Krasner retrospective now on view at the Barbican Centre in London, we combed through our archives and pulled out excerpts from reviews, interviews, and more that chart the change in critical reception of Krasner’s work.

October 1949
Man and wife [at Sidney Janis Gallery in New York] are exhibiting side by side, illustrating the work of five European and four American artists and their talented wives. With the inclusion of several famous husbands—Arp, Ernst, Picasso, Hayter, Nicholson, Delaunay, De Kooning—to name a few, it becomes a study in itself to observe how much or how little the wives have resisted the overpowering influence of their “better halves.” . . . There is also a tendency among some of these wives to “tidy up” their husbands’ styles. Lee Krasner (Mrs. Jackson Pollock) takes her husband’s paints and enamels and changes his unrestrained, sweeping lines into prim little squares and triangles.

—“Reviews and previews,” by Gretchen T. Munson

 

May 1951
Far out on Long Island, in the tiny village of Springs, with the ocean as background and in close contact with open, tree-studded fields where cattle graze peacefully, Jackson Pollock lives and paints. With the help of his wife, Lee Krasner—former Hofmann student and an established painter in her own right—he has remodeled a house purchased there to fit the needs of the way of life they have chosen, and a short distance away is a barn which has been converted into a studio. It is here that Pollock is engrossed in the strenuous job of creating his unique world as a painter.

—“Pollock Paints a Picture,” by Robert Goodnough

 

Lee Krasner, Desert Moon, 1955.
©THE POLLOCK-KRASNER FOUNDATION/DIGITAL IMAGE: MUSEUM ASSOCIATES, LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART/LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

November 1951
Lee Krasner [at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York] has changed surprisingly from earlier, extremely intricate paintings and has turned to large, free abstractions which depend entirely on open areas of square, rectangular shapes and strips of color, these playing over the surface completely free of association. One comes away with the feeling of having been journeying through a vast uninhabited land of quiet color.

—“Reviews and previews,” by Robert Goodnough

 

November 1955
Lee Krasner’s abstractions [at Stable Gallery in New York], in oil and oil-plus-collage, have a larger scale than [they did] formerly; and some of the largest with huge forms including black patches with torn edges, and with titles like Stretched Yellow, Milkweed and Blue Level, are like nature photographs magnified. The irregular shapes and simple colors of the former paintings, as well as the bumpily irregular surface of Broken Grey, like a messed-up beach of pebbles—all these things “slow the pictures up.” When nature is photographed in detail, its orderliness appears: Krasner’s art, which seems to be about nature, instead of making the spectator aware of a grand design, makes him aware of a subtle disorder greater than he might otherwise have thought possible.

—“Reviews and previews,” by Fairfield Porter

 

Lee Krasner, Polar Stampede, 1960.
©THE POLLOCK-KRASNER FOUNDATION/COURTESY KASMIN/SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

April 1958
Lee Krasner’s paintings [at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York] of the past two years postulate a new phase that has taken on a candid cue (or, one might speculate, an inevitable root) from a manner of her late husband . . . Here, the Pollock motifs of flesh and fecundity are repeated by his wife in a palette that oddly suggests off-pink cosmetic and fuchsia lipstick as well as flower petal, plant leaf and the void. The scale is audacious, the derivation as legitimate as a painter might wish.

—“Reviews and previews,” by Parker Tyler

 

March 1968
Lee Krasner knows a land of her own invention. . . . The newer works suggest plants or figures or something growing in the sun. In one series—also a continuation of earlier work—she plows the surface with dark furrows, sweeping centrifugally here and there over the surface, or jerking abruptly to a halt in a shower of paint spray. She makes repeating loops or enclosures like nests for “eyes” which look at each other and at the spectator, or perhaps there is a piece of fragmented anatomy, or a kind of open emptiness which swells from an invisible force, like canvas in the wind. . . .
It is not easy to have been Mrs. Jackson Pollock. There are many people who find it impossible to admit that she is any more than a wife who also paints, or to see anything in her work except a Pollock influence. Yes, of course, Pollock is in her work, and how could it be otherwise seeing that he was at the storm center of New York Abstract-Expressionism, and she was at that center. Naturally she learned from him and absorbed the influences he himself had absorbed. But Lee Krasner is a strong woman. She sails bravely into the teeth of whatever gale is blowing, and the handsome paintings in this current show demonstrate her continued strength and vitality.

—“Of Lilith and Lettuce,” by Lawrence Campbell

 

Lee Krasner, Palingenesis, 1971.
©THE POLLOCK-KRASNER FOUNDATION

January 1974
The paintings [by Krasner at the Whitney Museum in New York] that suggest the fiercest struggles proclaim a deep individuality. This quality is most evident where it is the most incongruous, e.g., in Combat, a brutal skirmish of orange and red, which conceals in its distances a soft Arcadian rhythm. Krasner is not a master, but she is on the edge of becoming one, and the titanic nature of her opposition suggests that she could become a very grand one.

—“Reviews and Previews,” by Al Brunelle

 

December 1981
In 1955 Pollock, now an artist of renown, began a heavy drinking cycle. He re-entered psychoanalytic therapy, and Krasner herself started in analysis. A year later, while Krasner was in Europe “taking a breather,” Pollock crashed his car into a tree near their home in The Springs and died instantly. Krasner is still bitter at the therapist “who told Jackson it was all right to drive drunk.” In the shock of grief, her own work was suspended for a while. “But then I realized if I didn’t get back to it I’d never make it at all.”
Now 73, actively painting and secure in her own worldwide reputation, Krasner will be the subject of a full-scale retrospective, organized by [Barbara] Rose, that is scheduled to open in 1983 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition will also come to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it is tentatively scheduled for the fall of 1984—one of the rare retrospectives given at MoMA to a woman artist.

—“Reviews,” by Frances De Vuono

 

Lee Krasner, Abstract No. 2, 1947.
©THE POLLOCK-KRASNER FOUNDATION/IVAM CENTRE, SPAIN

February 1984
[One] important distinction between Krasner and Pollock has to do with her relative deemphasis of content in her paintings. For example, although she and Pollock both on their own became interested in Picasso in the late 1930s, Krasner most admired Picasso’s formal innovations while Pollock was mesmerized by his psychological farce. Krasner’s deep-seated antipathy toward Surrealism (again, similar to [Hans] Hofmann’s) has caused her to make remarks such as, “Any painter that arrests me with their content I feel is failed,” which she followed with the assertion that, in her opinion, a work must transcend its content to be a “real” painting. . . .
Krasner herself would probably argue that it is not important to try to read meaning into one of her works; the content of her art emerges from the whole. . . . Krasner [recently] lamented the fact that artists too rarely have the opportunity for the kind of self-assessment that only a retrospective provides, and that she has had significantly fewer occasions for a comprehensive overview than most. Under these circumstances and considering her age, the key issue for any thoughtful viewer (including herself) to consider is how Lee Krasner has managed to keep a 30-year-old style a vital medium of personal expression. “To say that Abstract Expressionism is dead has more to do with public relations than art,” she maintains. That stubborn independence Krasner was once warned against might just be her saving grace.

—“Lee Krasner’s Past Continuous,” by Ellen G. Landau

 

January 2015
While the superstars—like Krasner’s husband, Jackson Pollock—painted big, asserting their privilege and that of their patrons, Krasner and [Norman] Lewis generally worked in smaller formats, making pieces for modest rooms. This was due partly to circumstance. Lewis worked in a fetid basement, while Krasner painted in a cramped bedroom, ceding to Pollock a spacious barn. The external forms seem to shape the idioms. . . .
Her work from the late 1940s and early ’50s is handsome in a somber sort of way. Black and brown tend to predominate, enlivened by white and touches of red and ocher. Some of the pieces evoke ancient tablets or—some critics have suggested—the Hebrew writing that Krasner practiced as a child. Other works could be construed as boneyards. Kufic (1965), a wall-size work done nine years after Pollock’s death, suggests calligraphy writ large. It feels like a big exhalation of a breath held for a long time.

—“Reviews: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis at Jewish Museum,” by Mona Molarsky

 
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of ARTnews on page 110 under the title “Land of Her Own Invention.”

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NYU Will Remove Sackler Name from Graduate Institute, Deana Lawson Wins Hugo Boss Prize, and More: Morning Links from October 23, 2020

To receive Morning Links in your inbox every weekday, sign up for our Breakfast with ARTnews newsletter. News New York University’s Langone Medical Center will remove the Sackler name from its Graduate Biomedical Institute following years of pressure from the student body and artist Nan Goldin’s advocacy organization P.A.I.N. [Hyperallergic] Yesterday Marian Goodman Gallery announced that it would close its London location. In an interview with ARTnews, gallery…

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NYU Will Remove Sackler Name from Graduate Institute, Deana Lawson Wins Hugo Boss Prize, and More: Morning Links from October 23, 2020

To receive Morning Links in your inbox every weekday, sign up for our Breakfast with ARTnews newsletter.
News
New York University’s Langone Medical Center will remove the Sackler name from its Graduate Biomedical Institute following years of pressure from the student body and artist Nan Goldin’s advocacy organization P.A.I.N. [Hyperallergic]
Yesterday Marian Goodman Gallery announced that it would close its London location. In an interview with ARTnews, gallery founder Marian Goodman shared what comes next for the enterprise’s British operation. [ARTnews]

Thirteen women, in interviews with The New York Times, have accused the Iranian celebrity artist, Aydin Aghdashloo, of sexual misconduct over a 30-year-period. [The New York Times]

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A New York program that offers perpetrators of minor offenses the opportunity to take an art class at the Brooklyn Museum instead appearing in court, is at risk of defunding. [The Art Newspaper]
Deana Lawson is the first-ever photographer to win Guggenheim Museum’s $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize. [ARTnews]
Artists & Institutions 
After a summer of social and financial turmoil, white-led arts institutions nationwide are reckoning with racism. But what does it take to achieve equity?  [Los Angeles Times]
A show of work by Bruce Nauman at Sperone Westwater Gallery, featuring a new digital artwork activated by an iPad touchscreen, “confirms how sedulously he is still pushing the studio’s limits,” writes Jason Farago. [The New York Times]
Maxwell Alexandre’s first solo show in England is now on view at David Zwirner’s London gallery. Check out some of the work, which centers Rocinha, the Rio de Janeiro favela where he was raised and currently lives, here. [The Paris Review]
Market
Sotheby’s back-to-back modern and contemporary evening sales in Paris and London generated a total of $90.4 million. [Art Market Monitor]
The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is facing criticism following the decision to deaccession dozens pieces of art and artifacts at Sotheby’s. [The Art Newspaper]

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Artist Saul Fletcher Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide

Saul Fletcher, a British-born, Berlin-based artist known for moody images of collaged objects photographed against a plaster wall in his studio, was found dead last week in Berlin what several outlets have reported to have been a murder-suicide. The claims have been circulating in the British and European tabloids since late last week, with the…

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Artist Saul Fletcher Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide

Saul Fletcher, a British-born, Berlin-based artist known for moody images of collaged objects photographed against a plaster wall in his studio, was found dead last week in Berlin what several outlets have reported to have been a murder-suicide. The claims have been circulating in the British and European tabloids since late last week, with the tabloids linking Fletcher with actor Brad Pitt (Fletcher was photographed by paparazzi last year walking around the Venice Biennale with Pitt and sculptor Thomas Houseago).
This morning, the three galleries that represented Fletcher at the time of his death—Anton Kern Gallery in New York, Knust Kunz Gallery Editions in Munich, and Grice Bench in Los Angeles—provided to ARTnews a joint statement regarding the reports: “We are devastated, appalled, and shocked by the tragic loss of Rebeccah Blum and Saul Fletcher. We are all grief-stricken and confused. We offer our deepest condolences to their families and together are offering our support and help.”

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Blum is a freelance curator who previously was director of Berlin’s Aurel Scheibler gallery. ARTnews has not been able to independently verify these deaths or the circumstances surrounding them.
According to a Daily Mail article published on July 23, Fletcher confessed to his daughter last Wednesday evening that he had killed a woman, now assumed to be Blum based on the statement of the galleries. Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, according to the Daily Mail, Fletcher’s daughter reported this information to the Berlin police, who subsequently found a woman dead from apparent stab wounds in Fletcher’s apartment. The following morning, Fletcher was found dead in the garden of property he owned near Rochowsee lake, about two hours north of Berlin.
ARTnews has reached out to Berlin law enforcement, but has been unable to verify this reporting at this time.
Fletcher, who was born in 1967 in the village of Barton, on the northeastern coast of England, and was largely self-taught, first came to prominence in the late 1990s when he began showing with New York’s Anton Kern Gallery. In a review of his exhibition at Kern in 2000, New York Times critic Roberta Smith called Fletcher’s photographs “evocative, slightly macabre, sometimes overly precious,” which “appear to be the work of a shut-in working in a nearly empty attic with the occasional cooperation of family members.”

Fletcher’s work has appeared in major international exhibitions as well, including the 30th Bienal de São Paulo in 2012, the 4th Berlin Biennale in 2006, and the 2004 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. His most recent exhibition at Anton Kern was in 2018. That same year, Inventory Press published a monograph of his work with essays by Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale, and critic Kirsty Bell.

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Unprecedented Toppling of Monument to Slave Trader Shocks British Art World

Until his statue was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday, few people outside Bristol had heard of Edward Colston. Dramatic images of the protests held in the British city show the bronze sculpture of Colston being torn down and thrown into the harbor of the historic port city. But the felling of the…

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Unprecedented Toppling of Monument to Slave Trader Shocks British Art World

Until his statue was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters on Sunday, few people outside Bristol had heard of Edward Colston. Dramatic images of the protests held in the British city show the bronze sculpture of Colston being torn down and thrown into the harbor of the historic port city. But the felling of the monument to the merchant, whose fortune was earned from the transatlantic slave trade he helped establish in the late 17th century, is just one part of a fierce and reignited debate about public art honoring problematic figures that’s being waged in Britain right now.

“I’ve recorded uprisings since the 1980s, but I was slightly stunned,” said artist John Akomfrah, referring to images on social media of the Bristol demonstration, which was peaceful, like many other protests across the U.K. “There is a remarkable irony. [Colston] has ended up in the place where he put hundreds of lives”—the harbor where bodies of enslaved Africans were thrown overboard during the infamous Middle Passage.

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Colston was a leading member of the Royal African Company, which had a monopoly on the slave trade in the late 17th century. “There’s no sympathy from me about his plight,” Akomfrah said.
The merchant’s statue, which was unveiled in 1895 when the British Empire was at the peak of its power, has long been a source of division in the city. Attempts to add a contextual plaque referring to the philanthropist’s role in the slave trade had reached a political and bureaucratic impass, prompting demonstrators to take matters in their own hands last weekend.
“I was amazed. It was the kind of thing I never thought I’d see in my lifetime,” said Hew Locke, a London-based sculptor who lived in Bristol in the 1980s. “This piece has been on my mind as a problem for years,” he told ARTnews. “Colston wasn’t a bad man. The language was wrong. He was an evil man. That’s the truth of it.”
John Cassidy’s sculpture has been derided as a poor work of art, but Locke disagrees with that assessment. “Aesthetically, it was one of Bristol’s best Victorian sculptures,” Locke said. In 2006, to pay homage to the sculpture’s history, Locke bedecked a large-scale photograph of the Colston monument with the trappings of his wealth based on the exploitation of Africans.

It’s unclear right now what will happen to the statute. Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, said on Monday that Cassidy’s sculpture will be “fished out” at some point but vowed that it will never return to its former prominent location. The bronze could be destined for the city’s history museum, MShed, which overlooks Bristol harbor, along with a collection of the Black Lives Matter protestors’ placards.
The fate of Colston’s statue and the Black Lives Matter movement raises awkward questions for other cities in the U.K. On Tuesday, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a review of all London statues with slavery links. One London’s former docklands now business district of Robert Milligan, a prominent slave trader and plantation owner, has been vandalized and covered in protest placards. On Tuesday, it was revealed that the statue would be removed. And there have been renewed calls to remove or at least recontextualize colonial-era statues, including ones in Cardiff in Wales, Dundee in Scotland, and in Oxford. Since 2016, campaigners have tried to banish the statue of the arch-imperialist of the Victorian era, Cecil Rhodes, at the University of Oxford. (A demonstration is taking place on Tuesday.)
Locke expressed skepticism over whether anything would change. “We will see,” he said. Meanwhile, authorities in Belgium have begun to remove statues of King Leopold II after protests. His colonization of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo involved systematic brutality and atrocities.
Some institutions have begun taking accountability for their role in structural racism, but their responses have done little to satisfy critics. Several big London museums, following their peers in the U.S., issued statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests at the end of last week and over the weekend. The British Museum immediately faced accusations of inaction over decolonizing its collection, which includes colonial-era looted art and human remains. The National Gallery in London also posted on social media its rejection of “racism, inequality and violence” in response to the death of George Floyd while being arrested by police. Anti-racist protestors began gathering in Trafalgar Square a week ago on the art museum’s doorstep despite an ongoing national lockdown due to coronavirus.
For nearly 100 years a bronze statue of George Washington has stood on the gallery’s front lawn, making it one of many public London monuments to “dodgy figures,” as Locke has put it. Presented by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924, it is a replica of the marble sculpture by the French 18th-century sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon that stands in the State Capitol building in Richmond. There is no mention on a plaque (or on the National Gallery’s website) that Washington was a slave owner, or that Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States in the U.S. Civil War.
When reached by ARTnews about whether it planned to make that history available, a National Gallery spokesperson claimed it was not the museum’s responsibility to do so, but rather the U.K. government’s. The museum is “looking” to update its website about the biography of its founding collector, John Julius Angerstein, however. Its current page about Angerstein glosses over the uncomfortable truth that much of the art collector’s wealth was based on insurance of ships used in the slave trade. He also had a financial stake in a slave plantation in the Caribbean.
Such a clarification of institutions’ history is becoming more common in the U.K.—Tate, for example, issued a lengthy statement about its founder’s role in the slave trade last year. Locke said that context such as this is necessary for institutions—and, in particular, the monuments in the cities around them. “The sculptures are part of history, but you need some acknowledgement of who these people were,” he said. “You can’t say police brutality is terrible, institutional racism is terrible, and then you don’t want anything to change in your local landscape.”
Locke, like Akomfrah, seemed resigned that the debate about the relocation of colonial-era monuments in the U.K. will now be framed by the government as a question of law and order after Colston’s violent removal. The U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson was quick to condemn the Bristol protestors’ actions claiming that the Black Lives Matters protests have been “subverted by thuggery.” After coming under fire, he toned down his rhetoric but insisted that anyone who harmed property would face “the full force of the law.”
Many in the British art scene—and beyond—are now left with serious quandaries going forward. “Let’s be clear, [Colston] was a mass murder,” Akomfrah said. “He benefited from the misfortune of others. The real question is, why was that statue put up in the first place?”

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