Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York

Penguin Pr. Mar. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780525560180. $28. BIOG
In this biography of artist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), Nemerov (Stanford Univ. chair, art and art history; Soulmaker: The Times of Louis Hein) relies on interviews, correspondence, newspapers, archives, diaries, monographs, and exhibition catalogs to provide insight into her formative years. Nemerov’s purpose is to help today’s viewers overcome their skepticism of romantic art such as Frankenthaler’s and understand her style of painting. His choice of format, with each chapter using one day to represent a year within the 1950s, is based on her paintings’ fluidity and spontaneity. In spring 1950, Frankenthaler started dating well-known art critic Clement Greenberg, who introduced her to established artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, smoothing her way into the art world. Inspired by Pollock, she started with unprimed, unstretched canvas on the floor, painting with turpentine-thinned colors, after drawing with charcoal. Nemerov convincingly depicts Frankenthaler’s artistic milieu. This review is from a prepublication PDF; image and binding quality are unknown. The book contains an index, image credits, and chapter endnotes, but no bibliography.
VERDICT While some may disagree with the author’s assumption about audience appreciation of Frankenthaler’s oeuvre, this book will appeal to those interested in the developmental years of a 1950s artist, and her creative process.
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