Painterly Constellations. Museum Folkwang pays tribute to American painter Helen Frankenthaler with extensive solo exhibition

Essen, Dec 1st, 2022 – The Museum Folkwang is dedicating an extensive retrospective to Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), one of the pioneers of American Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field painting. The presentation includes a total of 84 works from the period between 1949 and 2002. The focus of the show Painterly Constellations is Frankenthaler's work on paper.

At the age of 23, Helen Frankenthaler had already established herself in the male-dominated art scene of New York in the circle of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. With the soak-stain technique she developed, Frankenthaler became a precursor of Colour Field painting and had a lasting influence on artists such as Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. In 10 rooms, the exhibition retrospectively traces Helen Frankenthaler's artistic development from Abstract Expressionism to Colour Field painting to landscape-like works.

The first room of the exhibition is dedicated to the 1950s and shows that the medium of paper was already important to Frankenthaler at an early stage. She tried out new techniques on paper, leaving behind Cubist models, but also influences of the Abstract Expressionist artists such as Willem de Kooning. In 1952, Frankenthaler's works on paper such as Great Meadows (1951), one of the exhibition's outstanding loans from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, led her to her own technique and visual language. Taking Jackson Pollock's drip paintings as a starting point, the artist developed what is known as soak-staining, in which she applied diluted paint directly onto the unprimed canvas. The strongly coloured works from the 1960s with translucent, flowing fields dominate the following two rooms of the exhibition. In works such as the large-format canvas entitled Noon (1966, 296.5 x 222.5 cm), on loan from the Sprengel Museum Hannover, Frankenthaler has already replaced oil paint with acrylic. This technique informed her painting until the end of her career.

At the centre of the exhibition is the room with works from the 1970s. In this phase, paper is at the forefront of Frankenthaler's work. Through layering and overlapping of colour, the compositions become more cohesive in this decade. Form, format, and title often refer to landscapes, but without directly depicting nature. The final sequence of four rooms makes Frankenthaler's development from the 1980s to the 2000s comprehensible. In contrast to many other painters who devote themselves to non-objective art, she worked abstractly until the end of her life and continued to create works on paper, some of which were up to 2 x 2 m in size. The last room in the exhibition brings together six of these impressive works and brings the presentation to a close in auratic colour fields.

Frankenthaler's work spans a total of six decades. Part of the exhibition tour is dedicated to important stages in the artist's life; selected sound clips enable a chronological localisation of Frankenthaler's work. The presentation is complemented by a film box containing Perry Miller Adato's film portrait Frankenthaler. Toward a New Climate from 1978 gives visitors an understanding of the artist as she works and prepares for the exhibition. The documentary was made as part of Adato's series The Originals: Women in Art for the station WNET-Channel Thirteen.

The exhibition was made possible by generous loans from the collection of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, New York. Other important works come from the Museum of Modern Art New York, the Museum Reinhard Ernst in Wiesbaden, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Sprengel Museum Hannover and private lenders.

In cooperation with the Kunsthalle Krems and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.

Supported by Bankhaus Metzler.

A catalogue in German and English has been published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther and Franz König, Cologne. It is available in the museum shop at a price of 29.80 EUR.


HELEN FRANKENTHALER. Painterly Constellations
2. DEC 2022–5. MAR 2023

Grotto Azura

Helen Frankenthaler
Grotto Azura, 1963
Oil on paper, 58,4 x 73,7 cm
Collection Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, New York
© Helen Frankenthaler Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022