New York

Helen Frankenthaler

André Emmerich Gallery uptown

She had a gorgeous, simply gorgeous, time.
And look at the lovely shell she brought.
In quintessential triviality for years in
this fleshcase a shesoul dwelt.
—James Joyce, Ulysses

Helen Frankenthaler’s new show was about an art—no, paintings—of visual opulence, of rich, extravagant, and beautiful color. It was about the fluidity of her solutions—no, emulsions—that stick to the eye like honey. By virtue of their viscosity they coat and bind themselves to the eye. They preserve and pervert our perception of the essential “shesoul” which still lies somewhere within the artist since they were not to be seen in the paintings. Our eyes and seeing are caught in a hybrid rigor mortis—in the joined acts of looking and drooling. We do not, perhaps cannot, go beyond this conjunction to sense the core and power that justifies the act of painting. In other words, these paintings are about render-ing us heartless and mindless.

We are not instruments of vision (anatomic). We exist in realms other than the sensual-physical. We inter/correlate.

A shell, as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, is;

The hard outside covering of an animal or a fruit, etc. . . . The outer covering of a seed . . . The hard covering or house of a snail . . . An empty or hollow thing, mere externality without substance, content or meaning [italics mine].

Frankenthaler’s paintings epitomize the lexicographic prophets’ definitions. They are encased so that we cannot know the thing or things that infuse them with life other than the decorative paint stuff poured and brushed over them. They are anesthetized. They await an inevitable turn in the historical death cycle for all such painting.

These “shells” might cover a seed, or a fruit, that in turn might bear more fruit or grow, were they to be broken. Then again, there may be nothing there at all. “Taste embalms the knowledge which otherwise cannot preserve itself” (Disraeli).

José Matos