Mary Gabriel

The Women of Abstract Expressionism

If you were lucky enough to catch the round-up at the Denver Art Museum two years ago, you know that there was much more to the epic mid-century upheaval in American art than Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and the rest of the men. In her recent sprawling and delightfully readable Ninth Street Women, reviewed here, Mary Gabriel captured the life and times of Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, and Grace Hartigan. It all began with a meeting with the formidable Hartigan in 1990, as Gabriel tells us in this interview, but the biographer didn’t return to the subject till 20 years later and then spent seven years researching and writing their stories. Of those five painters and their times, she talks about the “camaraderie and fun they had” and “the ways they were in and out of each other’s lives.” The sexism of the art world didn’t really become a problem until big-money collecting entered the equation in the mid-1950s.

Gabriel also discusses the ways in which Elaine and Lee were great nurturers, how all managed to avoid the ‘50s trap of housewives and mothers, and why they fell from favor among critics and collectors. She ends our interview with a plea for more curatorial and critical dialogue around these remarkable women, who are finally gaining some of the recognition they deserve.

If you read only a few art books this year, put this one at the top of your list!

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