17th January - 23rd February, 2020
Sixty-nine years ago, a formative exhibition of the New York School held in a decrepit storefront on East Ninth Street in Lower Manhattan shaped the outlook on Abstract Expressionism that resonates until the present day. The movement distanced itself from the cogency and neatness of a subject matter, merging shapes, colors, and measures that splatter across the canvas in a daring contingency and disproportion. Notwithstanding the vital impact of The Ninth Street Art Exhibition on postwar American aesthetics, one may still argue for a taint of favoritism in the choice of merely 11 women among over 70 male artists including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning or Robert De Niro Sr. These artists continually prove to occupy the foreground of debates upon abstract art of the 1940s and 1950s America. Resisting the underestimation of female influence, Gazelli Art House’s latest exhibition 9th St. Club focalizes women’s contribution to the development of Abstract Expressionism by featuring works created at both early and mature stage of the movement by Elaine de Kooning, Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Mercedes Matter, and Joan Mitchell.
Presenting the variety of approaches to achieving the opaque, often erratic, quality of abstraction, the exhibition captures a conceptual depth of the New York School’s aesthetics through the lens of paintings, lithographs, collages, and sketches of seven female artists. The total number of nineteen pieces exhibited in the gallery varies in the distinctiveness of shapes and objects they represent, determining the scope for claiming the priority of one form, element or subject over another.
Helen Frankenthaler’s ‘Bay Area Tuesday III’ interposes gouges and embossments in the middle area of the painting, revealing a subtle undertow that contrasts with jarring brush strokes accumulated on the edges. The work urges us to pause and delve into the dissonance between inner layers delineated by the embossed paper and deliberately externalized impositions of brown and green shades on the rims.
Frankenthaler, Bay Area Tuesday III, 1982, Monotype with oil and acrylic on White Experimental Workshop handmade paper, 24 3/4 x 28 3/4 in. (62.9 x 73 cm)© Helen
With a similar effect to Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan plays with multiple layers of paper that constrain one another and determine shapes in her watercolour paper collage ‘Untitled, 1965.’ Enmeshed in the surrounding of thick brush strokes and emerald shades, the red structure emerging from the inward layer of paper invigorates the work with the indefiniteness of a form that simultaneously encourages and resists to be named.
© Grace Hartigan, Untitled, 1965, Watercolour and paper college, 76x57 cm, 30x221/4 in. Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York
Mercedes Matter’s ‘Untitled 1936’ confronts the viewer from across the entrance to the main room of the exhibition and builds a contrast with works of Hartigan, Frankenthaler, and Perle Fine who, in their common attempt jettison nameable forms, lean towards separation and accentuating one shape, motion or even color against the background of others. A taut assemblage of objects and overlapping shapes permeating Matter’s work create a conflux of elements that compere for being seen both as part of a whole and individually.
© Mercedes Matter, Untitled, 1936, Oil on canvas, 97x89 cm, 38x35 in.
Displaying two works of Lee Krasner, the exhibition captures a multifaceted character of her artistic practice aiming to resist a ‘signature image.’ Created in 1941, ‘Untitled (Gouache no.1)’ focuses on lucid figures reflecting the significance of a geometric abstraction that would play a central role in the artist’s first solo exhibition of 1951. ‘Rose Stone’ as part of Krasner’s ‘Primary Series’ developed in early 1960s marks the revival of colors in her work and renders the irregular shapes as if, in a prolonged motion reaching for a soothing palette of pink, purple, and white.
© Lee Krasner, Pink Stone, 1969. Lithograph, 7/8x29 1/ 4 in. (55.6x74.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Robert H. Haggarty.
As a small-scale display featuring up to three works of each artist, the exhibition succeeds in offering an essential glimpse of conceptual depth and individual expression achieved by women associated with the New York School. Yet, since the display features only four works from the period of the 1940s, it does not shed much light on the artists’ activity at the time when Abstract Expressionism was born. Declaring the goal of showing the role of women in ‘determining the parameters of the movement’ through the choice of works created at the formative stage of abstract art in America, the exhibition presents the artists as already involved in the groundbreaking aesthetics, rather than inventing it from scratch.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor