Helen Frankenthaler

I was moved by Anne Wagner’s obituary for Helen Frankenthaler in the April 2012 issue of Artforum. Every artist has to make their own canon, never more than today, when almost all artists are educated by art historians. Frankenthaler belongs to my tradition, what might be called “the temporalists,” artists whose work moves in one direction only, and cannot return. Modernists, Cézanne being the best example, go back and forth in time, altering, adjusting, correcting the work—changing the past to get to the future they want. Some artists gave up that faculty and accepted the loss in favor of a gain in the painful awareness of time’s passage. Pollock, Frankenthaler, Louis, and, for me, Smithson, is the group, my canon of precursors. There are others, but this is an important one. While the work is being made it is in time in the same way that our bodies are. Time is its substance, as it is ours. Once finished it becomes art like all the other art, and ages at a much slower rate than we do, giving the illusion that it is apart from time. I often find it difficult to enjoy her work, but I can listen when Wagner gives me more reasons to be interested in it.

Helen Frankenthaler in her studio in 1957

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