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A portrait of the artist Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler was born on December 12, 1928 in New York City. She first studied art at the Dalton School before pursuing an advanced degree at Bennington College in Vermont. It is here, under the direction of Paul Feeley, where Frankenthaler began to develop a more mature artistic style. Frankenthaler was quickly introduced to the New York art world through her relationship with the major critic and writer Clement Greenberg. Her relationship with Greenberg ended in 1955 and she married Robert Motherwell, a master of abstract expressionism, in 1958. The couple was a major fixture in New York’s art scene and Frankenthaler quickly rose to fame. She was renowned among the second generation of postwar American abstract painters and is known for playing a pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting. Frankenthaler’s style changed several times throughout her career as a painter and printmaker. She initially won acclaim for her pioneering abstract expressionist works, which were based on forms found in nature. Her works tend to be very colorful. In fact, by the 1960s, Frankenthaler began to experiment with color field paintings, in which the entire, or almost the entire, canvas was covered in a single hue. Frankenthaler, unlike many of her contemporaries, painted almost entirely in private, without relying too much on assistants. In 1961, she began to experiment with printmaking at the Universal Limited Art Editions and collaborated with Tatyana Grosman to create her first lithographs. In 1976, Frankenthaler collaborated with Kenneth E. Tyler to create her first woodcuts. Frankenthaler always denied labels such as “woman artist” or “feminist artist” stating that “I paint.” During her lifetime, she created and endowed the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation which aims to promote the visual arts. She received numerous awards and honors, including the First Prize for Painting at the first Paris Biennial (1959), New York City Mayor’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture (1986), and the National Medal of Arts (2001). Frankenthaler’s first solo exhibition took place at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, in the fall of 1951. She went on to participate in the documenta II in Kassel and had important retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2021, a decade after her death the New Britain Museum of American Art mounted an exhibition of her works on paper from the final stages of her opus titled Helen Frankenthaler; Late Works 1990 – 2003. Frankenthaler passed away in 2011 in her longtime home in Darien, Connecticut.