Frankenthaler’s Forms


Helen Frankenthaler's studio circa 1987

Helen Frankenthaler’s studio circa 1987

Just picked up a catalog of Frankenthaler from the late eighties, a big stretch for my taste. Recently there were conflicting assessments of her work on abstract critical. Her admirers are very enthusiastic. Presumably the expressiveness of her works lies in their syntax – the way a smear over here relates to a line over there or a stain in the background. But if that’s the way to look at abstraction there’s a lot of scope to articulate those relations further. Imagine a continuum from indistinct forms in tight arrangements to very sharp and definite forms in loose and arbitrary configurations; abstract art can continue for a long time trying to find out how many places there are in between. Distinct forms in tight arrangements is too boring and academic; characterless and undefined forms in casual groups without obvious necessity is the conventional way, particularly in American art, and it’s not clear whether that is also the permanent avant-garde or just the infancy of abstraction. On the good side it’s a leap in the dark; on the bad side it leads to unfortunate questions of evaluation and meaning that have stuck us with conceptual art. It might also be too easy.

Helen Frankenthaler, Scarlatti 1987

Helen Frankenthaler, Scarlatti 1987

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