Approach, 1962

“There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.”

-Helen Frankenthaler

Redefining Feminism in Modern Art

While at the forefront of the Color Field Movement that focused on experimenting with color, saturation, and media, Frankenthaler’s career was constantly entangled with her gender. Works such as Approach— which utilized her groundbreaking soak-stain technique where she would lay paint on unprimed canvases and let it soak in to create hues.were derogated as “blown-up paint rags” by art critic Clement Greenberg and were called “so good that you wouldn’t know it was made by a woman” by the artist Lee Krasner. In addition, her technique was appropriated by Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis after a studio visit in 1953, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that Frankenthaler would gain broad recognition as its creator.

Approach was made at a time when Frankenthaler was trying to separate herself and her art practice from such destructive criticism. After her color schemes were gendered and her process sexualized by critics, she actively moved away from her position as the feminist spearhead of the New York School. Her color schemes shifted to blues and browns. In Approach, the hues and halos of blue, brown, pink, and red work symbiotically to create an aura of a figure suspended in negative space. The layers of paint are fluid even in suspension, playing with our search for a figure in the work.

—Irmak Ersoz ‘24