Camera obscura Women of Abstract Expressionism at the Denver Art Museum
WOMEN OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM
Afamous 1950 photograph of the painter Jackson Pollock broadcasts an unwitting message. Pollock’s gleaming head commands the viewer’s eye, his brow furrowed in concentration; his body — frozen in action, right hand dangling a paintbrush over a work in progress — takes up most of the rest of the photographer’s field, along with the expansive canvas on the floor. Squeezed into the far right corner of the frame is the thin figure of Pollock’s wife, the artist Lee Krasner, perched on a stool and looking on in a drab housedress and slippers. Like the photographer, Hans Namuth (who was himself at the zenith of his career), Krasner seems wholly absorbed by Pollock’s kinetic energy. Her face is blurry, and her expression is hard to read, but her place in the photo is clear: She’s there as a bystander, a mere witness to her husband’s genius.
Krasner is among a group of female Abstract Expressionist painters — many of whom spent their careers in the margins of their male counterparts’ relative fame and success — who finally take center stage in a groundbreaking summerlong exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. It’s the first major museum show to focus on the achievements of these artists, and when Women of Abstract Expressionism closes in Denver on Sept. 25, the show will move to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then to the Palm Springs Art Museum next February, affording a few different parts of the country a glimpse into the individual and collective mastery of 12 painters identified as part of the postwar artistic movement: Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Sonia Gechtoff, Judith Godwin, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Deborah Remington, and Ethel Schwabacher.
In our collective consciousness of Abstract Expressionism, when we think of the movement, we mostly think of its men — Pollock’s paint-spattered rebel athleticism, Willem de Kooning’s
Woman series reflecting his male gaze, Franz Kline’s bold gestural confidence. Museum curator of modern art Gwen Chanzit writes in the exhibition catalog that “in this case, not only are they male, but their maleness, their heroic
machismo spirit, has become a defining characteristic of the expansive, gestural paintings of Abstract Expressionism.” Women of Abstract