Helen Frankenthaler: Magic & Discipline

Helen Frankenthaler, Eden, 1956, oil on canvas 103 x 117 inches (© 2013 Estate o
Helen Frankenthaler, Eden, 1956, oil on canvas 103 x 117 inches (© 2013 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Piri Halasz reviews the recent exhibition Helen Frankenthaler: Painted on 21st St at Gagosian Gallery, New York.

Halasz writes: "The last (and largest) gallery was also the best, with 'Jacob’s Ladder' PLUS four other paintings that rated three stars on my checklist: 'Giralda' (1956), 'Before the Caves' (1958), and 'Seven Types of Ambiguity' (1957). Centrally placed, and lording it over the others, was 'Eden' (1956), the painting that Greenberg cited as testimony to Frankenthaler’s ability to create great art even when her private life might be in the dumps. In addition to its dulcet clarity and command, it was also a very funny picture, centering, as it did, upon two blue, slightly wiggly sets of numerals, two '100'’s on either side of the top center of the canvas. Each was set in the center of a huge tear drop, outlined in olive green and lined with a peach color—or perhaps these were breasts, or perhaps chemical retorts ... These enormous tear-drops, with the '100's in them, inhabit what might or might not have been a sort of mystic garden, and the whole was limned in just four crystalline colors: peach, olive, medium blue and pale lime. What a monument of uncontainable magic was unloosed on the world by such iron discipline!"