Picks and Pans Review: Work on Paper 1949-1984

updated 05/06/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/06/1985 01:00AM

Helen Frankenthaler

With 76 gouaches, watercolors, oils and acrylics by one of the major figures in modern abstract art, this traveling exhibit makes clear why her works on paper have gained a stature equal to the radiant canvases that first brought her international recognition in the '50s. "It is a real reflection of what I'm about," says Frankenthaler, 56, of the retrospective. "Pictures don't lie. I can see myself and my growth. Not closed chapters, but what is the next risk and experiment. It's like a detective story. Or Hansel and Gretel going through the woods." So it is. Trained as a Cubist, her early '50s works, such as The Sightseers and The Picnic, echo Picasso. Hôtel du Quai Voltaire, painted in Paris during a European trip in 1956, reflects her travels, as do later works created during her 13-year marriage to artist Robert Motherwell. (Short on supplies while painting Hôtel du Quai Voltaire, the artist resorted to nail polish and lipstick—daubs of red and orange producing a bold explosion of energy reminiscent of close friend Jackson Pollock's work.) Looking to the exterior world of objects as well as to the inner abstract one, Frankenthaler found inspiration in such things as The Goldfinch, a 17th-century painting by Carel Fabritius; it led to her Fabritius Bird. Bingo, a 1962 oil and collage, shows a losing game card. Known as an inventive colorist (she is credited with having introduced color-staining—soaking color into unprimed canvas), Frankenthaler draws as well as paints in vivid hues. The brilliance of her blues is unforgettable, and so is the paleness of her pink, layered over white, in the 1978 Pink Palace. Lush landscapes gave way to walls of color in her '80s pieces.

This exhibit, sponsored by SCM Corp. and organized by the International Exhibitions Foundation, was mounted by New York's Guggenheim Museum. It will open May 11 at the Edmonton Art Gallery in Alberta and later travel to Toronto, Ontario, Harvard University Art Museum in Cambridge, Mass., Baltimore, San Francisco and Houston.

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