Exhibition celebrates Helen Frankenthaler’s print innovations

Exhibition celebrates Helen Frankenthaler’s print innovations

“Madame Butterfly,” Helen Frankenthaler, color woodcut, 2000. ©2019 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation
“Madame Butterfly,” Helen Frankenthaler, color woodcut, 2000. ©2019 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

MORE THAN 50 prints by Helen Frankenthaler — one of the most influential artists to emerge in the mid-20th century — are on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through Oct. 20.

Frankenthaler (1928-2011), who grew up in a progressive Jewish family on New York City’s Upper East Side, may be best known for her innovative abstract paintings. But she was also a prolific printmaker whose print works are characterized by the diversity of techniques she employed and the ways in which her engagement with printmaking could parallel her practice as a painter. “Helen Frankenthaler Prints: Seven Types of Ambiguity” examines the continuous and generative role of printmaking throughout the artist’s career, while tracing the ascendance of American printmaking in the latter half of the 20th century.

The works on display span five decades and more than a dozen printmaking processes, including lithography, woodcut, etching, and engraving. The exhibition will highlight 10 prints and five working proofs that were donated to the Princeton University Art Museum by the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation last year as part of the Frankenthaler Prints Initiative.

Also on display will be loans of prints from the Frankenthaler Foundation and from public and private collections and selections from the museum’s holdings, as well as historical works by artists whose printmaking inspired Frankenthaler, including Edgar Degas, Utagawa Hiroshige I, and Rufino Tamayo.

The exhibition’s subtitle is taken from literary critic William Empson’s iconic 1930 essay, “Seven Types of Ambiguity,” which articulated ways in which the formal structures of language could convey a multiplicity of meanings in poetry.

Frankenthaler’s innovative artistic career emerged with force in the 1950s. Her first solo exhibition was at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York in 1951. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibitions in this country and around the globe, and in retrospectives at such distinguished institutions as the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., and, in New York, The Jewish Museum, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.

Frankenthaler was the recipient of many awards, including First Prize for Painting, Premiere Biennale de Paris, 1959; Annual Creative Artist Laureate Award of the American Jewish Congress, 1974; and Extraordinary Woman of Achievement Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1978.

Admission to the Princeton University Art Museum is free; hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday,
10 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. For more information, visitartmuseum.princeton.edu.

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