LAMA BLOG

Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Helen Frankenthaler

November 13, 2018

“A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once. It’s an immediate image…one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronised with your head and heart, and you have it, and therefore it looks as if it were born in a minute.”

–Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler, West Wind1997
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

While many artists wait decades for a shred of recognition, Helen Frankenthaler is among the handful of distinguished artists who hit the ground running at a young age. After having had the good fortune of studying under Mexican muralist, Rufino Tamayo while still in high school, Frankenthaler was mentored by American Cubist Paul Feeley at Bennington College in Vermont. In 1950, only a year after her graduation, Adolph Gottlieb recommended Frankenthaler’s work for the invitational group exhibition, Fifteen Unknowns, at the Kootz Gallery. This debut in addition to several other major exhibition garnered the positive attention of many prominent critics including Clement Greenberg. Around this same time, Frankenthaler developed her signature technique of staining pigment into her canvas, by pouring turpentine-thinned paint onto raw canvas so that it soaked into the fabric weave. This process magnified the very nature of the painting medium and its inherently two-dimensional picture plane. Similar to older Abstract Expressionists, Frankenthaler believed that “the artist’s role was to reveal the unseen, not to comment on the seen,” and therefore she ventured to represent the subconscious. The marriage between her technique and this philosophy has prompted many to credit to Frankenthaler’s work as the bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting. Unlike many of the artists in both of these movements however, Frankenthaler resisted producing ‘serial’ works, instead treating the themes in each of her pieces as independent and unique.

Helen Frankenthaler, A Page From a Book: I-III (3)1997
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

In 1961, Frankenthaler joined Tatyana Grosman’s print workshop Universal Limited Art Editions, in West Islip, NY. There, she first began to experiment with print media but initially struggled to reconcile the spontaneity of her oil practice with the careful planning and technical precision of the print medium. Through much trial and error, Frankenthaler eventually harnessed the “unforgiving wood block” by devising a new printing method in which she cut separate block shapes and eliminated the white lines that would traditionally reveal the seams of the individual stamps in the finished print. Having been inspired by the rich colors of 15th-century woodcuts that were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Frankenthaler dedicated herself more fully to her investigation of the print medium and began an ongoing collaboration with master printer Kenneth Tyler in 1976. In Tyler’s studio, Frankenthaler experimented with a combination of print techniques such as lithography in Madame de Pompadour (1985-1990) and etching and aquatint in A Page From a Book: I-III (3) (1997). Through painstaking revisions and modifications Frankenthaler was able to produce fluid print compositions so groundbreaking that they fundamentally changed the accessibility of print. By refusing to subjugate her lyrical style to the demands of her materials, Frankenthaler released the print medium from the domain of the graphic artist and opened new avenues for abstract exploration. Many critics have suggested that Frankenthaler’s woodcut innovations made the most original contributions to printmaking of the 20th century.

Helen  Frankenthaler, Broome Street at Night1987
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian


LOT INFORMATION

Lot 214
Helen Frankenthaler
West Wind
1997
Published by the Lincoln Center/List Print and Poster Program, New York; printed by Brand X Editions, New York
Screenprint on paper
#61 of 110
Signed lower right edge of sheet; signed with edition lower left
Image/sheet: 41.5″ x 35.75″; Frame: 53.5″ x 47.5″

Estimate: $6,000 – 8,000
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

 

Lot 212
Helen Frankenthaler
A Page From a Book: I-III (3)
1997
Published and printed by Tyler Graphics, Ltd., Mount Kisco
Etching, aquatint, mezzotint, and stencils on White TGL Handmade paper
Each: #9 of 60
Each signed and dated lower right margin beneath image; edition lower left; each retains Tyler Graphics blind stamp lower right edge of sheet
Sheets each: 10.125″ x 24.625″

Estimate: $8,000 – 12,000
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

 

Lot 215
Helen  Frankenthaler
Broome Street at Night
1987
Published by 2RC Edizioni d’Arte, Rome; printed by Vigna Antoniniana Stamperia d’Arte, Rome
Etching, aquatint, and drypoint on White Magnani paper
#61 of 68
Signed and dated lower right margin beneath image; edition lower left
Image: 27″ x 28″; Sheet (vis.): 32″ x 33″; Frame: 39.75″ x 40″
Literature: Frankenthaler: A Catalogue Raisonné: Prints, 1961-1994. P. Harrison. 1996. #122.

Estimate: $3,000 – 5,000
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

 

Lot 213
Helen Frankenthaler
Madame de Pompadour
1985-1990
Published and printed by Tyler Graphics, Ltd., Mount Kisco
13-color lithograph on White Arches Cover paper
#32 of 60
Signed and dated with Tyler Graphics blind stamp lower right edge of sheet; edition lower left
Image/sheet: 43.5″ x 29.375″; Frame: 53.375″ x 39.375″
Literature: Helen Frankenthaler: Prints. R. Fine. 1993. #71.; Frankenthaler: A Catalogue Raisonné: Prints, 1961-1994. P. Harrison. 1996. #170.

Estimate: $4,000 – 6,000
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

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