Helen FRANKENTHALER | Other generations

United States of America 1928 – 2011

Other generations 1957
oil on canvas
signed and dated lower right, red oil, "Frankenthaler/ '57"
174.7 (h) x 177.9 (w) cm Purchased 1973 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1973.330 © Helen Frankenthaler

  • the artist;
  • from whom bought through Andr√© Emmerich Gallery Inc., New York, by the Acquisitions Committee of the Australian National Gallery, March 1973
  • New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970
    • Metropolitan Museum of Art 18 Oct 1969 – 08 Feb 1970
  • The Big Americans
    • National Gallery of Australia 04 Oct 2002 – 27 Jan 2003
  • Against the Grain: The Woodcuts of Helen Frankenthaler
    • National Gallery of Australia 26 Nov 2005 – 26 Feb 2006
  • Abstract Expressionism: the National Gallery of Australia celebrates the centenaries of Jackson Pollock and Morris Louis
    • 14 Jul 2012 – 24 Feb 2013
  • Henry Geldzahler, New York painting and sculpture: 1940–1970, London: Pall Mall Press, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1969, cat. 80, p. 149, illus.;
  • John Russell, The meanings of modern art, vol. 11: The great divide 1950–70, New York: Museum of Modern Art 1975, pp. 7, 41, col. illus. pl. 2;
  • Patrick McCaughy, ‘The modern period and the Australian National Gallery’, Art and Australia vol. 14 nos s3 & 4, January–April 1977, illus. p. 273;
  • John Elderfield, Frankenthaler, New York: Harry N. Abrams 1989, pp. 116, 118, col. illus.;
  • Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American paintings and sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1992, pp. 290–291, col. illus.;
  • Jane Kinsman, The art of collaboration: The big Americans, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia 2002, pp. 94–95, p. 139, col. illus.;
  • Jaklyn Babington, Against the grain: The woodcuts of Helen Frankenthaler, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia 2005, p. [10]

Other generations is painted on unprimed canvas using diluted oil paint, the ‘staining’ technique that Frankenthaler adopted and developed after 1952, inspired bythe paintings of Jackson Pollock. In a statement published in 1957, the year she painted Other generations, Frankenthaler described her approach:

I often start a canvas on the floor (stretched or unstretched) then work on it on the wall ... I use sized and primed canvas or unsized cotton duck. My medium is a combination of turpentine, tube paint and enamel. I use brushes or a palette knife but I often shake or toss the paint off the brush—rather than apply it—or use my shoe or hand, controlling and changing the accidental with specific ideas.[1]

Other generations is one of a series of paintings from the autumn of1957 that can bedistinguished from Frankenthaler’s dense expressionist landscapes of 1955 and 1956 by their larger scale, open composition and gestural freedom. Vestigial images seem to surface in a number of these later paintings, for example, Nude[2] and Jacob’s ladder[3]. In the National Gallery of Australia’s painting a female torso appears to materialise in the upper centre of the painting. To a suggestion that this image may have prompted the title Other generations, the artist replied:

Titles are a problem! I often fear that they are used too easily as a ‘handle’; leading to an emphasis on the literary and/or subjective interpretation in lieu of an aesthetic one … : in the case of Other Generations I myself would tend to minimise yet recognise your ‘association with a full female torso’. One might project or decipher some kind of figure‑shape(s). More important, different carefully‑placed, various‑sized colorshapes seem to ‘spawn’ or regenerate each other on the canvas surface; colored lines and forms, working in a negative/positive relationship, that create space.[4]

The usual assumption that male artists pioneer techniques and ideas, to be followed by female artists later, is tested by Frankenthaler’s pouring of paint onto unprimed canvas in the early 1950s. This was a breakthrough for the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, which served to reinforce the importance of the almost blank or white support, which now seemed almost equally privileged alongside the painted mark. Another gender issue arises in the title of the work, which now raises the issue of ‘female’ subject matter. But here the references to a female figure, and the artist’s commentary on it, are undercut by the understanding that Frankenthaler is generating images, which may multiply themselves like other life forms.

Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American paintings and sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Canberra: Australian National Gallery 1992, pp. 290–291, revised Christine Dixon 2012

[1]Helen Frankenthaler, ‘New talent in the US: Helen Frankenthaler’, Art in America vol. 45 no. 1, March 1957, p. 29

[2]Collection of the artist

[3]The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Hyam N. Glickstein

[4]Helen Frankenthaler, correspondence with the National Gallery of Australia, 29 November 1988, NGA file 72/2699

The National Gallery of Australia holds more than 200 intaglio, woodcut, lithographic and mixed media prints by Frankenthaler, including stage proofs from Tyler Graphics, and a portfolio This is not a book.