Let’s have another look at our program and how it will be presented!
The Best Seller Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel is the story of five women who absolutely insisted on being artists during a socially turbulent and male dominated era: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. The book is an astute and fascinating chronicle of their tragedies and triumphs—and their vulnerabilities and strengths. Gabriel’s written work has, justifiably, garnered numerous positive reviews, and has given us extraordinary insights in the spirit of these bold and talented women. They are an inspiration to us all. In this class—we will focus on their art and discuss how their achievements truly changed both art and society.
Session One: The State of the Art
In this session we’ll explore the trends in art and the historical and cultural circumstances that led to a collective desire to change the direction of visual art. What the Surrealists began, with their exploration of blending the unconscious with the conscious mind, subsequent artists took to wholly new expressions of the self. Post-war trauma and anxiety shaped both their processes and their products. Although their art was deeply personal, it was and remains relevant to universal themes. Join us to have a look at the world that gave birth to the Ninth Street women.
Session Two: Lee Krasner
Lee Krasner (1908-1984) was a key transitional figure within abstraction, who connected early-20th-century art with the new ideas of postwar America. Inspired by artist Piet Mondrian’s “grid,” Krasner helped devise the “all-over” technique, which in turn influenced Jackson Pollock’s revolutionary “drip paintings”. Krasner was remarkable for her artistic versatility and advanced skill, which, coupled with her intensive training in art theory, enabled her to revise her style and technique multiple times over the course of her career. Today, we’ll look at Lee as one of the foundational figures of Abstract Expressionism, and an artist who eventually moved beyond it.
Session Three: Elaine de Kooning
While Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) did use gestural brushstrokes in most of her work, much in the tradition of the Action Painters, Elaine’s work was figurative and representational, at least to some degree. Her canvases were rarely purely abstract (in the vein of Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock). As an avid world traveler, de Kooning was exposed to and inspired by a wide variety of artwork that helped make her one of the more diverse artists within Abstract Expressionism. She also went a long way toward promoting the movement and her fellow artists through her literary career as an art critic. Join us to discover how Elaine’s dynamism, sensitivity, and intelligence contributed to—and continue to influence–the history of art.
Session Four: Grace Hartigan
Grace Hartigan (1922-2008) was a Second-Generation Abstract Expressionist, who forged a new form of painting based on bold gesture and experimental brushwork. Within the movement, she was respected for her commitment and thick skin, and her striking paintings reflect this attitude. Hartigan’s belief that painting must have “content and emotion” continued throughout her career. Her best-known works combine the abstraction of her early work with recognizable images from everyday life or motifs from art history. The distinction between abstraction and figuration is often blurred by her experimental brushwork and lack of shading. Today we’ll examine Elaine’s life and legacy, to note not only her contributions to Abstract Expressionism, but her influence on many future artists.
Session Five: Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was among the most influential artists of the mid-20th century. Introduced early to major Abstract Expressionists, Frankenthaler was influenced by their painting practices, but developed her own distinct approach to the style. She invented the “soak-stain” technique, producing luminous color washes that appeared to merge with the canvas and deny any hint of three-dimensional illusionism. Her breakthrough gave rise to the “next big thing” in art—Color Field Painting. In this session we’ll pay close attention to Helen’s enormous impact on the art of both her contemporaries, and later painters.
Session Six: Joan Mitchell
Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) is known for the compositional rhythms, bold coloration, and sweeping gestural brushstrokes on large and often multi-paneled paintings. Although inspired by landscape, nature, and poetry, her intention was not to create a recognizable image, but to convey emotions. Mitchell’s mature work embodies a highly abstract, richly colored and calligraphic style, which balances elements of structured composition with a mood of wild improvisation. Today we’ll examine Joan’s arresting and insightful imagery, her unwavering dedication to her personal vision, and the ways in which she’s become an inspirational figure.
Session Seven: The Ninth Street Women in Context
The Ninth Street Women didn’t operate in a vacuum. They existed within—and helped to shape—much broader developments, globally. Indeed, they were instrumental in leading art critics and historians away from imposing national labels on art, and toward a truly international art historical tradition. Today, we’ll look at them collectively—along with their male counterparts—to identify how their achievements brought about winds of change that would even challenge their own ideas.