Photographer’s abstract series calls out dangers of GM foods
Food is a sensory experience; our eyes have already taken our first bites before our food even touches our taste buds. That’s what makes photographer Ajay Malghan’s series of up-close-and-personal food photographs so entrancing.
In his photo series, “Naturally Modified”, Malghan uses colored lights to create ghostly, distorted shadow images of popular ingredients. His work has featured everything from carrots to strawberries and sliced meats, all with the intent of inspiring viewers to ask themselves: What do we really know about the foods we consume?
The artist created these pieces as a statement on the shocking truth of genetically modified foods. The project began two years ago during Malghan’s graduate studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
GMO technology splices the genes of plant, animal, bacterial, and viral organisms in order to create new crop species that are designed to be bigger, grow better, and be more resistant to disease. The process of GM modification in foods is publicly criticized as being as distortive and strange as Malghan’s work makes it out to be.
These photographic abstractions of otherwise friendly fruits should put the viewer on alert; if these foods look alien, or even inedible, that may not be too far from the truth.
BNR Interiors Brings A-List Design Experience to a Larchmont Home
Imagine what a designer who’s worked as a wardrobe stylist for Lady Gaga and created interiors for Lucy Liu and Bobbi Brown could do for a suburban home. That talent is Nicole Fisher, who tackled those A-list gigs and more before founding her own firm, BNR Interiors, and helping clients like the owners of this Larchmont house.
As mom to a toddler and a dog, Fisher understood the needs of this young family with a taste for very modern design that’s also kid-proof. The family lived on the property for a few years before building new. “When it came time to renovate, the scope was so major that the architect recommended rebuilding instead of remodeling. They wanted to touch almost every inch of the house,” says Fisher.
Their mandate for the new interior: contemporary, streamlined, and warm. The latter was achieved through generous helpings of wood and texture, with white oak flooring throughout. The design follows a less-is-more approach, with a few showstopping pieces of furniture commanding attention and a striking staircase of steel and wood anchoring the center of the open floor plan without blocking the view. Fisher worked closely with her clients to learn their vision and assess their likes and dislikes, and then, she says, “They really let me bring it to life.”
– Dining Room Drama –
A massive live-edge acacia-wood dining table seats a crowd and acts as a statement piece. “That was our favorite piece. It’s 14 feet long and weighs 800 pounds. I think there were 12 people getting it in there,” she says with a laugh. The Phillips Collection table sits under a black mobile-like chandelier from Peck Lighting and it’s surrounded by chairs from Nest Home in Rye.
– Art of Living –
This light-filled sitting room flows into the eating area and kitchen. A plush sofa from ABC Carpet & Home, chairs from Arteriors, and a coffee table from Bernhart ground the room’s neutral palette. Custom abstract art by Rebecca Stern brings in the only color. “The scale worked perfectly,” says Fisher. “We kept everything else really muted and made the art the stand out.”
– Black and White All Over –
“The kids have really started gravitating toward the island, which has comfy leather barstools,” says Fisher of the seating that wraps around the island, per the client’s request. Being conscious of fingerprints and mess, she decided to go dark on the cabinetry, balancing the choice with white-quartz countertops on the island. “It’s not what you would expect in this style of house.”
– Family Time –
Velvet woven poufs imported from Israel lend a playful touch in the family room. The kids can hang out and watch TV seated on chairs from Mecox in South Hampton. They are covered in a treated tweed, to make the whole space kid-friendly. Art is by Linda Colletta.
– Master Class –
“This had to be their private space to get away — really clean and comfortable, nothing fussy,” Fisher says of the Zen master bedroom. “They didn’t even want throw pillows.” The upholstered bed looks custom, but it’s from Restoration Hardware and has storage underneath. A giant paper-lantern chandelier fills the lofty ceiling a bench from Align adds texture.
– A Polished Bathroom –
In the master bath, handmade clay tiles cover the walls up to the ceiling. “A big variety and differentiation in the handmade pieces add so much depth and character.” The Kohler tub sits on a polished marble floor the shower is finished with stainless penny tile from Tile Boutique in New Rochelle.
– Round Table –
At the center of the open plan, the breakfast table from Restoration Hardware serves as the family’s casual spot for eating and overlooking the staircase. The chenille chairs are from West Elm.
– The Team –
Designer: Nicole Fisher, BNR Interiors
Architect: Yestadt Architecture
Construction: Elwart Construction
Can two festivals bring hope to Trump country?
“Curating something really impactful right smack in the middle of Trump country is my way of doing what I think cultural policy in the US should have been doing all along,” says Dan Cameron, the director of the new Open Spaces biennial in Kansas City, Missouri. “[This] is getting our best artists and our best ideas and best policies, and pushing them into the Heartland so that we are not two countries, so that we become closer to a single country.”
Kansas City’s biennial is not the only major initiative to debut this summer in the American Midwest. Front International, a triennial in Cleveland, Ohio, also aims to draw attention to the under-represented art scene in the US’s Heartland. The region is a vague geography defined more by a state of mind: proudly homegrown but overshadowed by the rich coastal cities.
“I really think mid-size cities like Cleveland are the future,” says Michelle Grabner, the curator of Front International. “Artists are moving to these places where it’s reasonable and comfortable to make artwork.”
“Visitors will be quest-driven to encounter the triennial’s works” by more than 100 artists, adds Grabner, who was initially recruited in 2016 by Fred Bidwell, a local art collector and philanthropist, to curate his private art centre, Transformer Station.
Front International highlights regional landmarks and culture such as the opulent Federal Reserve, which will host a video installation by Philip Vanderhyden the downtown library with Yinka Shonibare’s 6,000-volume work The American Library (2018) and John Riepenhoff’s homage to beer and sausage cuisine with clever new recipes. Cleveland’s position as the cradle of American Op art is celebrated with the re-creation of Julian Stanczak’s 1973 mural Carter Manor, and the commissioning of new abstract murals by Kay Rosen, Odili Donald Odita, Heimo Zobernig and others.
“Artists are investigating forgotten spaces of [Kansas City],” says Cameron, whose Prospect New Orleans biennial helped revitalise that city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Open Spaces includes more than 100 artists Kansas City’s significant jazz history is addressed in Nari Ward’s sculptural celebration of the saxophonist Charlie Parker, while Nick Cave’s technicolour Sound Suit dance costumes appear along with Sanford Biggers’s Overstood (2017), an imposing sequinned silhouette.
The city’s massive Swope Park has often been a dividing line between social classes and racial communities, but Cameron is using it as a hub for public sculpture and performances. Further out, visitors can explore installations and dance in unconventional venues such as the city’s famous limestone caves and its toy museum.
What is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new technologies are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, such as a resistance to browning in apples, and to create new organisms using synthetic biology. Despite biotech industry promises, there is no evidence that any of the GMOs currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.
Visit the What is GMO page for more information and a list of high-risk crops.
Are GMOs safe?
In the absence of credible independent long-term feeding studies, the safety of GMOs is unknown. Increasingly, citizens are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to opt out of the GMO experiment.
Are GMOs labeled?
Sixty-four countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, require genetically modified foods to be labeled. Canada does not require any GMO labeling.
GMOs are not currently labeled in the United States. However, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) was published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2018. This law, which you may have heard called the DARK Act, is the start of mandatory GMO labeling in the United States. It means that some—but not all—products containing GMOs will have to be labeled by 2022. In its current form, categorical exemptions prevent this law from delivering the meaningful protections Americans deserve.
Which foods might contain GMOs?
Most packaged foods contain ingredients derived from corn, soy, canola, and sugar beet — and the vast majority of those crops grown in North America are genetically modified. 1
To see a list of high-risk crops, visit the What is GMO page .
Animal products: The Non-GMO Project also considers livestock, apiculture, and aquaculture products at high risk because genetically engineered ingredients are common in animal feed. This impacts animal products such as: eggs, milk, meat, honey, and seafood.
Processed inputs, including those from synthetic biology: GMOs also sneak into food in the form of processed crop derivatives and inputs derived from other forms of genetic engineering, such as synthetic biology. Some examples include: hydrolyzed vegetable protein corn syrup, molasses, sucrose, textured vegetable protein, flavorings, vitamins yeast products, microbes & enzymes, flavors, oils & fats, proteins, and sweeteners.
How do GMOs affect farmers?
Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotechnology companies have been able to obtain patents to control the use and distribution of their genetically engineered seeds. Genetically modified crops therefore pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to the national food security of any country where they are grown.
What are the impacts of GMOs on the environment?
More than 80% of all genetically modified crops grown worldwide have been engineered for herbicide tolerance. 2 As a result, the use of toxic herbicides, such as Roundup®, has increased fifteenfold since GMOs were first introduced. 3 In March 2015, the World Health Organization determined that the herbicide glyphosate (the key ingredient in Roundup®) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Genetically modified crops also are responsible for the emergence of “superweeds” and “superbugs,” which can only be killed with ever more toxic poisons such as 2,4-D (a major ingredient in Agent Orange). 4 , 5
Most GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture and are developed and sold by the world’s largest chemical companies. The longterm impacts of these GMOs are unknown. Once released into the environment, these novel organisms cannot be recalled.
When we incorporate discipline into our lives anything becomes attainable. We can achieve all our goals whether career or personal, as well as achieve and maintain an optimal state of health and overall sense of well-being. Almost everything in life requires discipline, even the simple act of meditating every day.
To the surprise of many, even the things we enjoy doing require discipline. However, we may not recognize this because we don’t usually consider that discipline plays a role even in activities that we consider fun.
Discipline can even turn activities that once were a chore into ones that you look forward to! For example, when working toward improving your health, you may not be excited at first about making healthy food choices, beginning a new exercise routine, or beginning a meditation practice. But as you remain consistent and disciplined you will realize your daily achievements and start to enjoy them! This is the key to maintaining focus and ensuring follow through.
Athletes, for example, look forward to the feeling derived from an intense workout and recognize that the energies exerted will push them closer to their goals.
This was true for me when I was sick. When I recognized that I needed to make some major life changes, it also became apparent that in order to maintain a state of optimal health, I would need to incorporate tools to ensure that I would never revert back to a disease state. Although it has been many years since I experienced symptoms of the neurological autoimmune condition I was diagnosed with, MS, the same reality remains true today.
When life hits me hard with a curveball, it would be easy to just throw my arms up in the air and give up. However, doing so would mean that I allowed that curveball to disrupt not just one aspect of my life, but also the entirety of my life! This is unacceptable, being that any curveball that life throws at you is always of a temporary nature.
Even when we lose someone close to our heart, whether it’s the end of a relationship or even death, it feels as though your heart will always be broken. I promise though, this is also a temporary feeling.
Like many people, I have experienced loss and understand the grief attached to it. There’s just no sugar-coating it, it’s extremely difficult and the pain can be intense. But there are two things you can always count on:
We all experience pain at some point in our life, and during these times it is extremely important that you continue to maintain a certain level of focus and discipline.
But just as we experience dark periods in our life, we also experience amazing ones! The ability to navigate between them is the key to a balanced and enriched life!
15 Chic, Cozy Fireplace Decorating Ideas
If there's one design feature just about every homeowner covets, it's a fireplace. A hearth serves as the perfect inviting spot for family and friends to gather around&mdashespecially when it's chilly. Whether or not it's actually functional is beside the point there's just something about a fireplace that that instantly adds warmth and polish to a home. Similar to a well-curated bookshelf, the bare ledge of a mantle begs to be adorned with favorite odds and ends. "I love decorating my fireplace mantel with plants and interesting art objects," says California-based artist and designer Lindsay Hollinger. "The brick mantel in my home, Casa Joshua Tree, has become where I keep all of my beloved tiny cactus pots. It's the centerpiece of my house, so it's important that it's decorated with beautiful and meaningful items."
These items include one-of-a-kind, natural elements like driftwood or crystals (they add color accents, she says), artwork, family photos, collectibles, and vases with gorgeous blooms. But utilitarian pieces can also serve as decorative objects. For example, Hollinger stores firewood in a cute and sturdy canvas tote, which also makes it handy for trips to the wood pile during winter.
"A good set of modern tools and a little broom are handy to have, too," Hollinger says. "You look at them even when not using the fireplace, so it's important they look beautiful." A cozy rug and floor pillows placed around the hearth will usher in some major hygge and create an intimate setting to host friends for a fun night in. Here, we share a our favorite mantle décor tips and shopping picks to light up your fireplace.
Column: Mark Bradford brings ‘dexterity of De Kooning’ and a commitment to activism to 2017 Venice Biennale
It’s been more than 10 years since a painter has represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. That was Ed Ruscha in 2005. This week, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University announced that another Los Angeles painter, Mark Bradford, would be given free rein at the U.S. Pavilion for 2017’s Venice Biennale.
It’s too soon for Bradford to divulge details about what he has in mind for his Venice installation, but we can be sure that it will be more than simply pretty paintings hanging on walls. There will be a message.
The artist’s international reputation rests on deeply layered canvases that take on issues of class, culture, race and gender in abstract ways. He also helped launch a social services organization and gallery space in Leimert Park called Art + Practice, devoted in part to helping foster youth.
This attention to politics and activism, along with Bradford’s formidable painting skills, are why Rose director Christopher Bedford says Bradford is the right artist right now to represent the U.S. at one of the most high-profile contemporary art events in the world.
“I don’t know if we’ve seen someone with the dexterity of [Abstract Expressionist Willem] De Kooning who is also committed to activism,” Bedford says. “That is unique to art.”
Bedford sounded ebullient as he discussed the news over the telephone on Wednesday morning. “I have two hats of loyalty here,” he says. “First and foremost to Mark. I want this to be his moment in the sun. But there is a secondary story: I want people to think about the Rose.”
That the Rose Art Museum, which just half a dozen years ago was in danger of having its collection sold off to make up for recession shortfalls, is the sponsoring institution is an unprecedented comeback of a nearly shuttered museum.
An installation view of one Bradford’s sculptures in the 2008 LACMA exhibition “Hard Targets,” curated by Christopher Bedford.
Certainly, Bradford’s selection is momentous on its own. He is only the third African American artist to represent the U.S. at the Biennale in a solo capacity. (The other two were Robert Colescott in 1997 and Fred Wilson in 2003.)
And as the first painter to take over the vaunted U.S. pavilion in a dozen years — following a series of artists working in installation, performance and video — his choice proves once again that painting isn’t dead, nor does it even have a passing fever.
“At this point, painting is like a vampire,” jokes Bradford on the telephone. “It’s been resurrected so many times.”
Certainly, in his hands it has come alive in singular ways. Bradford’s stormy abstract compositions are comprised of layers of paint and detritus (from street signs to perm papers) that comment on societal issues in sly and beguiling ways.
“I’ve always been interested in art history, the history of painting, reanimating, expanding that history,” says the artist. “It’s always been central to my work.”
Bedford says it makes sense that the two most recent painters to represent the U.S. at the Biennale would hail from L.A.
“I think you can divide the art world in the United States roughly as follows,” he explains. “The center for academic art history is Boston. The commercial art world is in New York. And the center for art schools is Los Angeles. So the idea that great painters would emerge from that context shouldn’t surprise anyone.”
And, in fact, it was Bradford’s dexterity as a painter that captivated Bedford to begin with.
Visual and Performing Arts Teacher Resources
Visual and Performing Arts resources foster different forms of creative expression, whether through drama, music, film, dance, or visual art, and teach students to value aesthetics. In addition, they provide learners with the historical and cultural contexts for events.
Hands-on activities can be used to introduce young learners to the concept of symmetry while an activity for middle schoolers connects art, advertising, and nutrition. Other lessons, activities, and videos permit students to discover the themes, values, and traditions of world cultures.
The arts have long been used to draw attention to and encourage response to important social issues, e nvironmental concerns, and even the horrors of war. Here’s an article packed with suggestions for how to integrate the arts into science classes and this lesson connects science, math, and art.
No matter your subject area, Lesson Planet has teacher-curated resources designed to spark the interest of your students in the visual and performing arts.
Review: Spectacular aboriginal paintings from Australia burst with deep, sacred beauty
As with Navajo blankets, Japanese Zen ensō paintings, Gee’s Bend quilts and much more, the similarity between Australian aboriginal painting and modern Western abstract art is mostly superficial. All have their own codes and contexts, which are keys to unlocking the deeper beauty of what the artists have made. Think of them as outliers at your peril.
At Gagosian, “Desert Painters of Australia Part II” assembles 21 paintings by 11 artists made during the last 30 years, with most dating from this century. (The title’s “Part II” nods to an earlier exhibition at the gallery’s New York flagship last spring.) Many works are borrowed from the collection of writer Anne Stringfield and her husband, entertainer Steve Martin. The exhibition is an exciting conclusion to an unusually lively summer gallery season, which has departed from the more typical vacation-time quietude.
Most of these desert painters live and work in Australia’s Northern Territory, first settled by indigenous people 40,000 years ago, principally in the sparsely populated, semi-arid southern region. Perhaps that helps explain the prominence of searing, red-orange hues in more than half the show’s paintings: You feel the presence and power of sprawling desert landscape, with its similarly colored earth and light, even if you don’t see its forms depicted.
If there is a mark that characterizes these widely varied paintings, it is the dot. Atomized specks and spots proliferate, often coalescing to form lines, pathways and larger circles that create dense, canvas-covering patterns reaching edge to edge. Compositions have no center — or perhaps multiple centers, which constantly shift attention across the surface.
Naata Nungurrayi paints a densely stippled, horizontal field of flame-colored spots against earthen brown and black, a stark contrast that establishes its glowing vibrancy. George Tjungurrayi (Nungurrayi’s brother) weaves sinuous lines that seem to be an impossible fusion of a tiny fingerprint and a limitless landscape. Like dried brush on a hillside, dense thickets of horizontal rows of vertical dot-lines mark an exquisite painting by Yukultji Napangati.
Many of the show’s most captivating works are by women, including Nungurrayi and Napangati, ages 87 and 49, respectively. The standout is the justly celebrated Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910-1996), a Utopia clan elder regarded by the National Museum of Australia as among the country’s greatest artists.
Her career was brief but prolific, with some 3,000 paintings made over eight years — about one per day. The three Kngwarreye works in the show demonstrate her formidable breadth.
“Wild Yam and Emu Food” is a network of cellular shapes filled to overflowing with stabbed dots of color, like a roiling, barely contained energy field. “Yam Story III” is a vertical web of spidery white tracery over flat black, a ghostly trail of light standing 7½ feet tall. “Merne Akngerre,” arguably the most viscerally beautiful painting in a show with tough competition for the title, is an ecstatic, 10-foot horizontal expanse of teeming spots of rainbow hues, which marks the eddying flow of time through the ritual tapping of the brush.
The paintings were specifically made for outsiders. The sacred and narrative cosmology contained within them is, according to a gallery handout, veiled and fragmentary, transformed and intentionally withheld in their fullness from those outside the clans. Given the expressive richness of the articulation of experience contained in what we do see, these are masterful contemporary paintings, plain and simple.
Helen Frankenthaler and the Messy Art of Life
With her innovative soak-stain paintings, Frankenthaler embraced color for its own sake, animating and elevating the most elemental sensations.
The American painter Helen Frankenthaler always resisted being treated as a “woman painter,” on the ground that artists should never be asked to be representative of anything except their art. Yet Frankenthaler’s life as an artist does make one think hard about adversity and resilience. Impediments impede they can also inspire. Anyone who goes to Venice to admire the unimaginable richness of the pictures in its churches will find, on retreating to the museum in the Venetian ghetto, where the Jews were forced to pay their jailers to lock them up, that the visual art made by the persecuted was much less compelling than the art of the people who persecuted them. But, then, art is an outlier activity. In the Victorian age, a majority of the great novelists were women (only Dickens and Trollope hold up as well as the Brontës, Eliot, and Mrs. Gaskell) in the United States, all the most interesting mid-twentieth-century musicians were African-American. In some instances, oppression can stifle artistic expression in others, it can serve as a forcing house for it. Often, both things happen at once, or differently to different people.
Now the Stanford art historian Alexander Nemerov brings us a new biographical work, “Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York,” concentrating on a key decade in the painter’s career. His is one of those books (Stephen Greenblatt’s “Will in the World” was a sterling example) in which a distinguished scholar says, in effect, to hell with being a distinguished scholar—I’m going to write like a human being. Nemerov refers to his subject not as Frankenthaler but as Helen—very much against the grain of current biographical practice—and he apologizes, in an affecting preface, for having been too much the pedantic puritan, early in his career, to fully appreciate her. The project even involves a sort of apology to his father, Howard Nemerov, the poet (and the brother of the photographer Diane Arbus), who was a teacher, friend, and admirer of Frankenthaler’s. When Nemerov taught an art-history survey class at Yale a dozen years ago, he made the decision, he tells us, to teach art as art, rather than as encoded political cartooning or as social history in pictures. “I abandoned my expertise,” he writes. “I let go of the skepticism I hid behind as a younger man. I left no scrim or safety net between me and the students, between me and the art, between me on the stage and the person I was alone. I began speaking—I don’t know how else to say it—as a person moved.”
Frankenthaler is not an entirely obvious heroine for our moment even in her own day, she stood out for her good fortune. She was born in 1928, the daughter of a much admired New York State Supreme Court justice, and grew up on Park Avenue. The youngest and the prettiest of three daughters, she was very much her father’s favorite she had a haunted relationship with her imposing mother, Martha, herself an unfulfilled artist. (Martha, caught in depression by Parkinson’s, committed suicide, decades later, by jumping from her apartment window.) Frankenthaler had a classic upper-Manhattan upper-middle-class education, switching from Brearley to Dalton, a move from an atmosphere of earnest progressivism to one of even more earnest progressivism. She also took art classes from the Mexican modernist Rufino Tamayo, and she knew that she wanted to paint. Nemerov’s book, to its credit, depicts her art not as a collision of art-historical icebergs but as the result of a personal practice, of nonverbal habits, of a way of being in the world. He tells us that, as a child, Frankenthaler delighted in drawing a single line of chalk tracing her route from the Metropolitan Museum to the family’s apartment blocks away—the opening scene of her bio-pic, surely—and loved to take her mother’s red nail polish and spill it in the sink, just to see the patterns it made—a surer sign of a painterly sensibility than museumgoing, although she certainly went to lots of museums.
But Nemerov doesn’t discount the effects of Frankenthaler’s enlightened education. In 1949, she graduated from Bennington, then a women’s college, where she studied with Paul Feeley, a Picasso admirer. Feeley taught her a version of Cubist painterly syntax, the first credible grammar for painting since Renaissance perspective. “At Bennington, the study and practice of modern painting was a part of the college’s intensity, not an escape from it,” Nemerov writes. The women’s colleges in the nineteen-forties did a terrific job of empowering women, as we would now say: whatever obstacles to the life of an artist Frankenthaler encountered, they were not found at Bennington. As in Mary McCarthy’s “The Group,” about a Vassar class from roughly the same period, the women’s colleges gave a slightly unreal, or premature, sense of women’s possibilities in the world.
Frankenthaler returned to New York in 1949, and, after a brief flirtation with art history at Columbia, set out to become a painter. She rented a studio downtown, and went to work, still in an essentially European, Picasso-influenced mode. Nemerov describes the young Helen as “larger than life, knowing well enough how to be a party’s center of attention.” She also had a remarkably unembarrassed sex life. Her peers scrutinized her romantic choices for signs of careerism, never more than when, during her first year back in the city, she took up with the legendary critic Clement Greenberg.
Greenberg was bad-tempered, prone to brawling, and often cruel—a constant critic, he actually kept a diary in which he gave his lovers’ bodies bad reviews. Reading about Greenberg now, you wonder why everyone in the art world didn’t just tell him to get lost. In truth, he’s like Reggie in the Archie comics, obnoxious but essential to the story. Why did the art world find him so irresistible? Some of it was the sheer allure of mischief-making, the unrepentant reprobate being more compelling than the nice guy. More came from his role as a sort of John the Baptist to Jackson Pollock’s Jesus: the first proclaimer of a divinity. It can be hard to recall, with our current seminar sleepiness about the many sources of Pollock’s art, how original and audacious his painting looked then—it seemed a spontaneous whirlwind of skeins, the artist becoming nature instead of merely serving it. Frankenthaler and the painter Larry Rivers took an oath, in the early fifties, to be forever true to Pollock’s example. As Pollock’s oracle, Greenberg had a kind of prestige that no critic has had since. Only Pauline Kael, in the mid-seventies—when, having placed her bets on the epic possibilities of pop “trash,” she was proved right by Coppola and Scorsese—had something like the same kind of cachet.
Yet Nemerov may underrate the connection between Greenberg’s actual views of modern painting and Frankenthaler’s artistic practice in the fifties. He emphasizes the critic’s invocation of the dark existential forces that hover over Pollock’s pictures, like the demons in a Goya print. But Greenberg’s organizing idea was surprisingly simple: modern painting, having ceased to be illustrative, ought to be decorative. Once all the old jobs of painting—portraying the bank president, showing off the manor house, imagining the big battle—had been turned over to photography and the movies, what was left to painting was what painting still did well, and that was to be paint.
So Greenberg was one of the first to see the incomparable greatness of Matisse, at a time when Picasso still occupied the center ring of the circus. But if Greenberg’s insight was that the decorative residue of painting might be the best thing about it, his evil genius was to enforce this insight with a coercive historical scheme, and then police it with totalitarian arguments. The scheme, borrowed from Marxist dialectics, was that History allowed no other alternative to abstract painting—the flatter and the more openly abstract, the better. The policing took place through Greenberg’s insistence on his own eye as the only arbiter of the dialectic.
Although everyone was waiting for the next breakthrough in painting, no one would have bet money on Frankenthaler’s being the one to achieve it—the general condescension she inspired, rooted in envy, prevented it. But on October 26, 1952, that breakthrough took place when, from a “combination of impatience, laziness, and innovation,” as Frankenthaler later recalled, she decided to thin her paints with turpentine and let them soak into a large, empty canvas. By using the paint to stain, rather than to stroke, she elevated the components of the living mess of life: the runny, the spilled, the spoiled, the vivid—the lipstick-traces-left-on-a-Kleenex part of life. She retreated, a little cautiously, into the landscape cognates of the abstraction, though, in naming the finished picture “Mountains and Sea.” The results were not much admired at first the Times deemed a 1953 show of her work, which included this painting (it now hangs in the National Gallery of Art), “sweet and unambitious.” But that year two other painters, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, visited her studio and adopted her innovation. A new style, “color-field painting,” or “post-painterly abstraction,” was born. Under Greenberg’s sponsorship—though outside his tutelage—it became, as Robert Hughes once wrote, “the watercolor that ate the art world.”
It’s a style now under a cloud, which is perhaps where it ought to be, liquidity, rain, and foam being its native vernacular. It’s beclouded, in part, because it doesn’t take much work to grasp. Picasso said once that an artist makes something new in order for someone else to make it pretty, but this was something new that was also something pretty. It was the later color-field variants—made mostly by men—that are more evidently austere.
Women critics made much of the feminine nature of Frankenthaler’s stain paintings, even tying them directly to menstruation. She passionately objected to this reductive reading, as artists often will object to having their art explained or annotated, particularly since all artists of note have a standard sneer directed at them, and the one directed at Frankenthaler was that her art was merely “feminine”—derivative and pleasing, rather than difficult and sublime. In 1957, the painter Barnett Newman, affronted by Frankenthaler’s presence in a feature in Esquire, wrote her a cruel letter: “It is time that you learned that cunning is not yet art, even when the hand that moves under the faded brushwork so limply in its attempt to make art, is so deft at the artful.” Even her most gifted rival among the women painters of the time, Joan Mitchell, got in on the act, calling her a “Kotex painter.”
What’s impressive about the early soak-stain Frankenthalers, of course, is how unpainted they are, how little brushwork there is in them. Their ballistics are their ballet, the play of pouring, and a Rorschach-like invitation to the discovery of form. Paramecia and lilies alike bloom under her open-ended colors and shapes. Pollock is praised for pouring and dripping, as though inviting randomness, but one senses the significant amount of figural underpainting that exists beneath the surface. Even in the case of a painter as original and as decorative as Joan Mitchell, there’s a kind of stenographic calligraphic reduction of Monet, Impressionism remade as Action. By contrast, Frankenthaler’s images seep into the material there really is no paint surface as we think of it, no top to be on top of.
Her work of the fifties and sixties speaks to a world not of action but of reaction, of absorption and fluidity, with intimations of aquariums and hothouse flowers rather than of the usual Eighth Street stoplights and street corners. As much as Mitchell is in active dialogue with Monet—a devotion so intense that it led her to move to Vétheuil, up the hill from his old house—Frankenthaler seems in conversation with Bonnard. They have the same love of faded color, and the same feeling for designs that are almost chatty, this bit laid alongside that bit, rather than “all over,” in the manner that links Monet and Pollock. There are Bonnard watercolors that, if one simply enlarges a sky or a flower surface, look eerily like Frankenthaler paintings. Even Picasso’s dismissal of Bonnard’s compositions as “a potpourri of indecision” holds for her pictures. In this sense, Frankenthaler’s work asks what would happen if you took this kind of Bonnard watercolor—with its deliberately slack, soft-edged intimacy—eliminated the more obvious referents, and worked big. But that principle of displacement is a truth of all modernist art, where shifts in practice come from seeing in the margins of an activity—like the spattered paint on a drop cloth—the possibilities of something central.
In a curious way, Frankenthaler’s revenge on Newman has been achieved, almost accidentally, in the past decades, with Newman’s pictures inspected for signs of patriarchal phallocentrism. His sublime zips have even been blandly likened to actual zippers—“mundane openings onto male organs,” as one academic put it—an analogy that would have been seen as blasphemously belittling in his day. Meanwhile, Frankenthaler’s weepiness, condescended to as feminine, looks more richly fertile.
For a nonparticipant, these arguments will seem crudely reductive. If a straight line is to stand for phallocentrism while a soft center stands for its vaginal opposite, do we have an argument worth winning? Both Tom Wolfe and Robert Hughes were indignant at this seeming smallness of meaning and metaphor in abstract painting. And yet the reduction of the argument to simple gestures is the whole point of the game. What makes good games matter is the commitment of their players to the rules as the springboard of invention. Art is its constraints. Scrabble players don’t suppose that spelling words is significant what’s significant is assembling words from a limited array of letters. Chess players don’t think about capturing kings and rooks they think about strategies for capturing kings and rooks. No painter imagined that eliminating perspective or storytelling from pictures was inherently virtuous, or that the picture plane was a prime place in itself they were drawn to the game of eliminating everything else, then finding out what was left and how it could communicate. The dignity of American abstract art lies in the intersection of the obviousness of its motifs and the complexity of its motives. It says smart things simply.
A great and somewhat limiting event of Frankenthaler’s life took place six years after “Mountains and Sea,” when she married Robert Motherwell, an older Abstract Expressionist of unimpeachable integrity. At the time, Motherwell had an Arthur Miller-like aura of dignity and authority. His signature work—big funereal blobs of black solemnly processing across a void, called “Elegies to the Spanish Republic”—provided, in retrospect, a too easily remembered recipe for seriousness in the serious fifties. The work “indicates,” as Method actors of that period learned to say of a too neatly telegraphed emotion, rather than inhabits its mood. The obvious visual metaphor—big black forms meaning big black feelings—was bolstered by an obvious progressive piety in the title. Motherwell’s best works were his less strenuously virtuous collages, built around his favorite brand of French cigarettes rather than around his loftiest beliefs. But the romance between the two artists is genuinely moving: Motherwell and Frankenthaler fell on each other as soul mates. Frankenthaler took in his two daughters by his first marriage, and they made their home in an Upper East Side town house. For a while, Frankenthaler and Motherwell were the Lunts of abstract painting, the unquestioned power couple of the form.
Although the marital connection, as rivals groused, assisted Frankenthaler’s career in certain ways, it may have arrested it in others. For a very long time, Frankenthaler’s style supplied a default look for American abstract art. In Paul Mazursky’s late-seventies feminist film “An Unmarried Woman,” the SoHo artist played by Alan Bates paints in just this style (which, historically, is a little too late) perhaps it was inevitable that the style was appropriated from a woman and assigned to a male painter by a male filmmaker. For all Frankenthaler’s fame, though, she was typed as a member of an earlier generation than the one she belonged to. When subsequent waves of art—Pop art and Minimalism—came washing over, she seemed like an Old Guard holdout rather than, as the lightsome, colorful, improvisational nature of her painting might have suggested, a predecessor of an art less self-consciously angst-ridden than Abstract Expressionism.
The marriage brought other forms of misfortune. Motherwell, whose father had been the president of Wells Fargo, turned out to have been the prisoner of a traumatic childhood, and sank into alcoholism. Frankenthaler and Motherwell divorced in 1971, and perhaps it should have been easier for peers and critics to re-situate her art within the generation that rebelled against the Ab Ex anguish. A painting like her simple silhouette of orange, “Stride” (1969), now in the Met, looks gaily Day-Glo, very much of its time. There was an evident overlap, as the art historian Robert Rosenblum once pointed out, between the high-keyed color and ease of post-painterly abstraction and the formal qualities of Pop they were both helium-filled antidotes to the dark agonies of Abstract Expressionism proper.
Frankenthaler, had she been the careerist some decried, might have benefitted from this resemblance. She didn’t, in part because of her allegiance to the “serious” stuff. Some of her best painting, certainly, is her most larksome. Pictures like “Tutti-Fruitti” (1966), now in Buffalo, or “Royal Fireworks” (1975)—which sold at Sotheby’s last June for a handsome, though not Pollockian, sum—have a warmth and a brightness of affect that seem entirely their own. The appealing pousse-café of color in “Tutti-Fruitti” implies sherbets, water ices, fireworks—nothing “deep” and everything alive. They have what Nemerov calls “childlike connotations,” an unapologetic, inspiring embrace of color for its own, elemental sake.
Frankenthaler continued to paint late into her life. She remarried, in 1994, to an investment banker, and five years later they moved to a house in Darien, Connecticut, right on the Long Island Sound. There her paintings picked up the sea greens and turquoises that, for the last dozen years of her life, she could see from her studio.
Learning to be an aesthete in middle age, as Nemerov has, is like taking tango lessons in your fifties: the spirit is admirable, but the moves are awkward. Almost overequipped to handle the intersection of art and social history—Nemerov does a masterly job on the relation of Frank O’Hara’s poetry and Frankenthaler’s painting—he is underequipped to make people and pictures live on the page. No one could pick a picture out from all the others after reading his description of it. At one point, we’re told, of Frankenthaler’s 1955 “Blue Territory,” “The graffiti of a schoolgirl’s private confession takes on the aura of saintly ecstasies, a conventional sign of forlorn adolescence martialed almost against its will into a bold strapping air of titanic achievement”—a description that reveals little about the picture except that the author likes it. Attempting to create novelistic character and an inhabited world, Nemerov relies on mechanical double adjectives and stock word pairings: “Elegant yet earthy, Martha Frankenthaler was a person of vibrant enthusiasms and impetuous moods” Greenberg is “tough as nails.”
Another struggle is presented by Nemerov’s puritanical take on Frankenthaler’s concern for her career, too much remarked on in her day she thought nothing of posing for a spread in a popular magazine if doing so would increase her fame and sell her pictures. Nemerov assures us that, nevertheless, “something saved Helen. Her paintings stood apart from her quest for recognition and sales.” Why, though, would she need to be saved from being sold? Being part of the world of buying and selling is constitutive of what the visual arts have meant and have been since the end of the medieval era. Only priests and academics find anything shameful in it. Whatever is lost in contamination by commerce is more than made up for by what’s gained in independence. Frankenthaler painted what she wanted, and people bought what they wanted.
Nemerov worries, too, about the possibility that bourgeois collectors found her subtle intimacies merely soothing. Yet the idea that New York collectors would seek out pictures they thought comforting is a misreading of the psychology of New York collectors they like to collect what they don’t think likes them. The prestige lies in showing that you don’t need to be flattered by the art you own. This is why, in the apartments of Manhattan collectors, sweet photographs of the grandchildren are hived off in the bedroom, while kinky Koonses and Bacons take places of honor next to the coffee table. (The people who thought of Frankenthaler’s art as in any way “easy” were, in that period, teaching in colleges, not collecting paintings.)
Nemerov’s admiration for his heroine sometimes makes him overrate her originality. “Helen’s sensitivity allowed her to grant ordinary experience—faltering, incomplete, apparently meaningless—the large solemnity of art,” he writes, as if this were not the achievement of every landscape and still-life since the birth of painting. Of all the constraints that make art matter, that pairing—small, sensual objects seeking big, lifesaving points—is the most familiar. Having once been shuttered in a classroom where commonplace lyricism is censored and the depiction of intimate experience is assumed to be merely a cover for bourgeois ideology, Nemerov is a bit like Molière’s M. Jourdain, discovering that he has been speaking prose his whole life—or, in this case, discovering that, while he has been speaking prose, everyone he studies has been reciting poetry all along.
From today’s perspective, the most striking thing about Frankenthaler’s career is how much all the things that were said to belittle her, sometimes by other women, now seem to point toward her art’s larger soul. Joan Mitchell may have sneered at Frankenthaler as that “Kotex painter,” while Grace Hartigan said that her pictures seemed “made between cocktails and dinner.” Now the Bonnard-like ease within the cycles of domesticity, and even the possible origins of her work in menstrual staining, are seen by feminist critics as an admirable uplifting of the “abject.” Nemerov is appropriately voluble on this subject: “The painting that left the studio, the painting that hung on the gallery wall, offered such a range of experiences and emotions that it might disguise how it had all started with a gesture connoting such a private and bodily function.”
He is surely right to sense a larger American story here, about women, painting, and the elevation of the decorative instinct in art. Impressionist painting became uniquely valued in America at a time when it was still scorned in France, in large part for being “feminine,” instinctive, and soft. (It was no accident that the leading post-Impressionist correctives to Impressionism were almost comically phallic, as with Seurat’s Piero-like pillar people.) The Chicago curator Gloria Groom has established that American women played a crucial role here. Mary Cassatt and May Alcott (the original Amy March) formed a circle in France that assisted married women with money to buy pictures, and advised them to heed the judgment of Sara Hallowell, a remarkable curator and art adviser in Paris. These viewers prized exactly the qualities that made the art of Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro dubious in France: non-heroic, housebound subjects like babies and kitchens, an allergy to firm contour and an adherence to the domesticity of the passing day. This tradition of “feminine” defiance is part of the inheritance of Frankenthaler’s art. It extends to a painter like Elizabeth Murray, but also to the seemingly Dadaist activity of Janine Antoni, who was rightly included in “Pretty Raw: After and Around Helen Frankenthaler,” a 2015 show at Brandeis University. Antoni chews chocolate and then, spitting it out, forms it into her own signature objects—an extension, in deadpan form, of Frankenthaler’s revaluing of the messy necessary liquids of life.
In the classic pattern of the oppressed taking on the values of the oppressor, social radicals still sometimes think that only “subversive” art—tense and tedious—can be serious, while things that look like big watercolors cannot be. This dismissal leaps past gender to the heart of the modernist enterprise, where Monet’s delight in painting for the eye is still suspect, and Matisse’s calm insistence that he saw his art as akin to a comfortable armchair for an exhausted businessman is still the most taboo of all artist manifestos. And yet this unashamedly decorative impulse, experienced as a woman’s domain, is a constant in the American tradition. For her fond biographer, Frankenthaler’s art delights the eye, as it was designed to, and that’s enough. Enough? It’s everything. ♦
15 Gray Rooms Neutral Fans Can't Resist
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