Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Helen Frankenthaler ~ Spaced Out Orbit and the Clement Greenberg Collection

How is it that the Portland Art Museum has such a strong collection of painters representing Abstract Expressionism (Frankenthaler, Hoffman, Pollock, Gottlieb), Color Field movement (Noland, Louis, Olitiski and Dzubas) and Post-Painterly Abstraction (Bannard, Poons) (amongst others in each area)? Well, these were all painters who art critic Clement Greenberg in the 1950's and later championed as being integral to the new movement of painting in New York City. They were his friends and as such he was able to amass a collection of art from them. The art filled his home (Spaced Out Orbit hung behind Greenberg's desk chair for sometime) and storage areas. So much so that when he died in 1994, his widow Janice Van Horne took nearly all of what Greenberg had collected and sold it en masse so that 159 works of art could be acquired by the Portland Art Museum in 2000. PAM's collection went from 0 to warp speed in this area of art overnight. Although some parts of the collection are scattered throughout the CMCA (Center for Modern and Contemporary Art), e.g. Horacio Torres nude study is on the third floor, most of the collection that is exhibited is on the second floor.

Helen Frankenthaler's Spaced Out Orbit hangs next to Jules Olitski's The Prince Patusky (a story for another time). On the adjoining wall are Kenneth Noland's No. 1, and Friedel Dzubas' Found. Dzubas and Frankenthaler were sharing a studio on West 23rd in 1952. The night Frankenthaler officially finished Mountains and Sea, Dzubas called Clement Greenberg to announce that he needed to get right over because something odd and beautiful had emerged. Later, Greenberg who was Frankenthaler's lover at this point decided to invite two friends to Frankenthaler's studio -- Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. Both of these men were bowled over by what they saw. The three Noland, Louis, and Dzubas along with Olitski quickly adapted the pour/stain technique to their painting style. Frankenthaler was an integral part of the development of Color Field Painting.

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