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After declaring herself a painter in 1936 at age 11 and until her death in 1992, Joan Mitchell’s insistence on living and painting without constraint inspired a life of nonconformity with art at its center. In the splendid book Joan Mitchell, co-edited by Sarah Roberts and Katy Siegel and accompanying an upcoming retrospective exhibition, the artist’s characteristic vivid colors and confident, gestural brushwork are spectacularly evident in the book’s more than 300 images; four paintings are featured on gatefolds.

Essays by numerous curators and art historians, including Éric de Chassey, Jenni Quilter, and Richard Schiff, are paired with contributions by writers Paul Auster and Eileen Myles, composer Gisèle Barreau, and artists Joyce Pensato and David Reed; what emerges is a vibrant, three-dimensional, and often intimate picture of the artist. The book also offers a new understanding of Mitchell’s towering accomplishments as a woman operating in a male-dominated milieu; as Roberts and Siegel write, “We hoped that in treating Mitchell as the great painter she so clearly is, we would also discover something specific and possible — rather than solely limiting and exhausting — about being a woman artist.”   

In a recent conversation, Roberts and Siegel discussed their perspectives on Mitchell, why the book’s introduction is titled “Beautiful Weed,” and the paradoxical way in which Mitchell epitomized aspects of her generation while simultaneously being out of sync with it.    

The Joan Mitchell exhibition will premiere at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on September 4, 2021, and will be on view through January 17, 2022. It will then travel to the Baltimore Museum of Art, where it will remain from March 6 through August 14, 2022. A version of the exhibition will also open at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, in fall 2022.

Joan Mitchell is published by Yale University Press and SFMOMA and is available for purchase at yalebooks.yale.edu.

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