Helen Frankenthaler

The Guggenheim Museum has given Helen Frankenthaler a small show, “After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-59.” She may well wonder whether or not they’ve done her a favor. Her often large canvases have been crammed into two mingy tower galleries, and there is a strange precision to the span of years covered. After her initial breakthrough of the stained-canvas technique in Mountains and Sea, 1952, Frankenthaler reverted to a more conventional AbEx painterly mode. The pictures of 1956-59 represent a return to the innovation on which her place in art history rests: spacious pictures that “breathe” rather than those that gag on thick-paint sputum. Compared to contemporaneous work by Richard Pousette-Dart or Bradley Walker Tomlin, let alone the scores of Tenth Street nobodies, her canvases look very fresh indeed. But by including none of Frankenthaler’s other work from the decade, the

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