The exhibitions that rippled through our cultural fabric over the past year, at least those occurring in and around New York, have registered the predictable number of highs and lows, though 2014 did manage to plumb one nadir unlikely to be matched for a good long time.
There are currently two exhibitions of Joan Mitchell’s paintings and drawings on the same Chelsea street. Taken together, they offer an extended examination of a painter’s process as her sensibilities shift from a dominant mode expression to something altogether different.
BASEL, Switzerland — Fifty-five years ago, the exhibition The New American Painting arrived at the Kunsthalle Basel. It was the first stop on a yearlong tour that touted the work of seventeen Abstract Expressionists before eight European countries — the first comprehensive exhibition to be sent to Europe showing the advanced tendencies in American painting. All but five of the original artists from the show had work on view at last weekend’s Art Basel, where postwar American painting and sculpture dominated the halls.
I think it’s funny that Patricia Albers’s recent and authoritative biography on Joan Mitchell was given the subtitle “Lady Painter.” It’s my only guess that Mitchell’s lifestyle and her painting were so out of character for the time that the term becomes ironic. The artist was known for her camaraderie with Cedar Tavern macho dudes like de Kooning and Pollock, her hangout sessions with beatnik poets, her ability to party, and her tendency to drink and sleep around with bravado. At the time these activities and attitudes were thought to be reserved for men. Mitchell gradually carved out a space for her paintings to be given the same treatment.
Tomorrow, Swann auction house will be presenting a sale, “Atelier 17, Abstract Expressionism & the New York School,” which showcases the prints of the Abstract Expressionist era that are often overlooked because the larger, flashier paintings inevitably grab the spotlight. The sale has a particular emphasis on the co-operative printmaking workshop Atelier 17, which was started in the Paris studio of English painter and draughtsman Stanley William Hayter in 1927. When World War II began, Hayter fled Paris for London and eventually settled in New York after a very short stay in California during the 1940s. The first New York incarnation of Atelier 17 popped up at the New School of Social Research but eventually the studio found a home at 41 East 8th Street in the heart of artistic Greenwich Village. Jackson Pollock lived across the street.