Helen Frankenthaler at Bernard Jacobson Gallery.

ARTnews | May 2014 | Reviews: New York  | Page 97

by Michelle Millar Fisher


Helen Frankenthaler, Quattrocento, 1984, acrylic on canvas, 56" x 62 3/5". Bernard Jacobson. 

Helen Frankenthaler is often positioned as a connecting factor between Abstfract Expressionism and Color Field painting- the postwar "bridge between Pollock and what was possible", according to her contemporary Morris Louis. This show demonstrated, however, that her art can also stand firmly on its own. Though eclectic at first glance- nine works over a range of mediums- this small exhibition drew focus from Frankenthaler's investigations of technique, form, color, and materials. 

The five canvases on display recorded different manipulatons and translucencies of acrylic paint, creating evocative and rich landscapes that were half real and half imagined; process and result seamlessly converged. In Bella Donna (1987), the largest canvas at eight feet tall, perpendicular threads of brown and orange cut through fields of green and gray.  The geometric frame-work acts like a stripe in a vibrant tartan texile. Flecked with bright-yellow impasto dashes, the bleeding and expansive wash of Quattrocento (1984) is clearly in dialogue with Pollock, Rothko, and Louis. Yet Frankenthaler's work here was neither grandiose, like Pollock and Rothko's, nor as spare as Louis's, although her technique - thinned mixtures of turpentine and pigment soaked into horizontal canvas - nodded to a shared method. 

While the larger canvases were hypnotic, it was Frankenthaler's three small ceramic tiles that stole the show. All titled Thanksgiving Day, they are part of a group of 100 made in Upstate New York in 1973. Here the palette is reduced and in a diferent medium, the mark-making more discrete. The tonal contrast was made sharp and bright through firing. These are quick sketches in color, a fact highlighted by the accompanying Possibilities 3 (1966) - the earliest work in the show - featuring three primary colors that frame the outisde lip of the paper in a bold band, finished by a fourth line of green. Each presented on its own wall shelf, the ceramics stand as three-dimensional Ur-forms for her later works. Frankenthaler's expressive, sculptural, and joyful color reigns supreme, no matter the medium or size of the field.