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Lee Krasner

DATES October 27, 2000 through January 7, 2001
COLLECTIONS Contemporary Art
  • June 1, 2000 The first full-scale retrospective of American painter Lee Krasner since her death concludes its national tour at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, from October 6, 2000 to January 7, 2001. The traveling exhibition comprises sixty paintings, collages, and drawings on loan from major collections around the world. Together, these works—many of them not publicly exhibited in decades—present the complete trajectory of the artist’s work. The retrospective marks a posthumous homecoming for Krasner, a Brooklyn native.

    Organized chronologically, the exhibition begins with Krasner’s early figurative work of the 1930s and includes important examples from all phases of her career. The retrospective was organized by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York, and was curated by noted art historian Dr. Robert Hobbs. The installation at the BMA will be coordinated by Charlotta Kotik, Curator of Contemporary Art.

    Philip Morris Companies Inc. is the corporate sponsor of the national tour and has provided additional support to the BMA for its presentation of the exhibition.

    The exhibition tour began at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in October 1999 and traveled to the Des Moines Art Center. The exhibition will be on view at the Akron Art Museum beginning in June and completes its tour at the Brooklyn Museum of Art this fall.

    While Krasner (1908–1984) was the only female painter associated with the first generation of the New York School, for many years she was known primarily as the wife and artistic follower of Jackson Pollock. This exhibition makes clear her critical contributions to Abstract Expressionism, while demonstrating her ongoing artistic dialogue with a diverse range of artists, critics, and writers, including Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso, among others. The exhibition also shows that while Krasner was in fact influenced by Pollock’s work, she influenced his paintings in turn. In embracing the work and ideas of others as a source for her own creativity, Krasner rejected the romantic and distinctly male Abstract Expressionist notion of the alienated individual as the wellspring of artistic expression. Her work brings an important feminist perspective to the discussion of twentieth-century American art.

    The retrospective begins with Krasner’s self-portrait from 1930, created to fulfill a requirement of the conservative National Academy of Design, where she was studying. A young Krasner depicts herself standing in a lush landscape of woods, fields, and flowers as she works at the easel. The self-portrait introduces themes that held her life-long interest—the fecundity of nature, the artist’s place as an integral part of nature, and the central role of the self in making art.

    Works from the following decade include paintings made under the instruction of Hans Hofmann, such as Untitled (1940) and Krasner’s Little Image series, produced at the same time as Pollock’s monumental Sounds in the Grass series. In the early 1950s, Krasner began ripping and cutting apart her own and Pollock’s works to combine them into large collages. Art critic Clement Greenberg called the 1955 exhibition of these collages one of the most important in the decade.

    The exhibition traces radical changes in the artist’s work following the deaths of Pollock in 1956 and Krasner’s mother in 1959. The Earth Green Series covers the period from 1956 to 1959 and includes large-scale works such as Birth (1956). The death of Krasner’s mother launched the Umber and White Series, with its palette limited to blacks, whites, ochers, and browns. The series is also known as Night Journeys because the paintings were made during bouts of insomnia.

    The retrospective covers important examples of Krasner’s themes of the 1960s and 1970s, when she returned to earth and fertility images while experimenting with unusual color combinations. Works included in this section are The Green Fuse (1968) and Mysteries (1972), from the BMA’s permanent collection.

    In 1976 Krasner embarked on Eleven Ways to Use the Words to See, collages of early drawings made under Hofmann’s instruction. The titles of these works, such as Imperative, Imperfect Subjunctive, and Present Conditional (all 1976), attest to the importance of time and the connection of art to language, topics that younger artists were beginning to explore.

    In a 1980 interview with Flash Art, Krasner reflected on her career: “Not having been a giant success in my life has been, in the end, a blessing. I can afford now to do as I wish . . . So I’d like to take advantage of the situation and not predict what my next paintings will be.” She continued to incorporate elements of past work into new paintings and collages until her death in 1984.

    Lee Krasner is accompanied by a catalogue with an extended text by the exhibition curator, Dr. Robert Hobbs, who holds The Rhoda Thalhimer Endowed Chair of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University. The catalogue includes ninety-two full-color and thirty-four black-and-white illustrations. Published by Independent Curators International, the volume is available in softcover for $29.95 at the BMA shop. The hardcover edition, distributed internationally by Harry N. Abrams, is available in bookstores for $49.50.

    The exhibition and the accompanying publication are made possible by a leadership contribution from the principal sponsor, the Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc.

    Additional support has been provided by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, the Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation, Betsy Wittenborn Miller and Robert Miller, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    For nearly twenty-five years, the non-profit Independent Curators International (ICI) has been dedicated to making contemporary art accessible to the broadest possible public, providing diverse audiences around the globe—many of them not regularly exposed to contemporary art—with innovative, challenging exhibitions. Collaborating with a wide range of distinguished curators to offer exhibitions and catalogues that introduce and document works in all mediums, by both emerging and established artists from around the world, ICI is a leader in its field. The catalogues it produces enhance the impact of the exhibitions by putting the art on view in historical, socio-political, or cultural contexts. Since the founding of ICI, its exhibitions have been seen by more than five million people.

    Philip Morris Companies Inc.’s cultural program focuses on contemporary and multi-cultural visual and performing arts, and is among the leading corporate arts support programs in the world. The qualities that guide the successful growth of the Company’s business—innovation, creativity, and diversity—have been the cornerstone of its giving since 1958. In addition to sponsoring Lee Krasner, Philip Morris has contributed to the cultural life of New York City through support to such organizations as The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York City Opera, and The Whitney Museum of American Art.

    The Company is also among the largest corporate contributors to hunger-relief causes and domestic-violence prevention programs in the country. In the New York City area, Philip Morris has supported numerous organizations including Citymeals-on-Wheels, the Center for the Elimination of Violence in the Family, and God’s Love We Deliver. The Philip Morris family of companies—Kraft Foods, Miller Brewing Company, and Philip Morris USA—is the world’s largest producer and marketer of consumer packaged goods.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1995 - 2003. 2000, 056-59.
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