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Lee Krasner (1908-1984)
Bird Talk
signed and dated 'Lee Krasner '55' (lower left); signed again, titled twice and dated again three times '"Bird Talk no. 1" Lee Krasner 1955 "Bird Talk no. 1" 1955 55' (on the stretcher bar)
oil, paper, photographs and canvas collage on canvas
58 x 56 in. (147.3 x 142.2 cm.)
Executed in 1955.
Provenance
Marlborough Gallery, New York
Pace Gallery, New York
Paine Webber Jackson & Curtis Art Collection
Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Literature
B. Rose, "Lee Krasner and the Origins of Abstract Expressionism," Arts Magazine, February 1977, p. 98 (illustrated).
W. T. Conroy, Jr., "Columbian Collage: American Art of Assembly," Arts Magazine, December 1977, p. 87 (illustrated).
C. S. Rubenstein, American Women Artists, New York, 1982, p. 273.
S. Kalil, "Lee Krasner: A Life's Work," Artweek, 10 December 1983, p. 20.
Lee Krasner: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Museum of Modern Art, New York, pp. 86-87, fig. 86 (illustrated).
E. Hill and S. Bloom, "Lee Krasner, Houston Museum of Fine Arts," Artforum, May 1984, p. 93.
K. Larson, "Lee Krasner's Enduring Gestures," New York Magazine, 14 January 1985, p. 48 (illustrated).
K. Paradiso, "Lee Krasner: A Retrospective," Women Artists News, Spring 1985, p. 10.
Lee Krasner Collages, exh. cat., Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1986, n.p. (illustrated).
S. Kuthy and E. G. Landau, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock: Ku¨nstlerpaare, Ku¨nstlerfreunde; dialogues d'artistes, re´sonances, Bern, 1989, p. 70.
Lee Krasner Paintings 1965 to 1970, exh. cat., Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1991.
S. Polcari, Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience, Cambridge and New York, 1991, p. 334.
R. Hobbs, Lee Krasner, New York, 1993, pp. 57 and 62, fig. 53 (illustrated).
E. Landau, Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, p. 145, no. 288 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Stable Gallery, Lee Krasner Collages, September-October 1955.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; York, City Art Gallery; Hull, Ferens Art Gallery; Nottingham, Victoria Street Gallery; Manchester, City Art Gallery and Cardiff, Arts Council Gallery, Lee Krasner, Paintings, Drawings, and Collages, September 1965-October 1966.
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; Pennsylvania State University and Waltham, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Lee Krasner: Collages and Works on Paper, 1933-1974, January-October 1975, p. 56, no. 51 (illustrated on the cover).
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Twelve Americans: Masters of Collage, November-December 1977, no. 106 (illustrated).
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Norfolk, Chrysler Museum; Phoenix Art Museum and New York, Museum of Modern Art, Lee Krasner: The Education of an Artist, November 1983-February 1985, no. 106 (illustrated).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Des Moines Art Center; Akron Art Museum and Brooklyn Museum, Lee Krasner, October 1999-January 2001, p. 111 (illustrated).

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Saara Pritchard
Saara Pritchard

Lot Essay

Lee Krasner’s Bird Talk is a triumphant milestone in the history of both painting and collage. Comprised of colorful shreds of oil-drenched paper, rough-hewn swatches of raw canvas and fragments of blurry photographs (executed by the artist herself), the work vibrates with an intensity of tone and composition that is mesmerizing. Scraps of fuchsia and Halloween-orange careen across the night sky canvas with reckless abandon, creating a network of luminous sparks that dazzle and stun. Executed in 1955, the work is a testament to Krasner’s underestimated talent and innovation.

In the mid-twentieth century, the cultural tides shifted as the uniquely American school of Abstract Expressionism eclipsed the popular, but stagnant, Parisian aesthetic. Krasner found herself on the crest of a great wave that would demolish and rebuild the common understanding of what art was supposed to do, and how it could do it. However, unlike many of her peers, who fashioned themselves as romantic iconoclasts or misanthropic outcasts, Krasner adopted an approach to art-making devoid of ego, in that it was essentially opposed to objectified individuality. While so many Abstract Expressionists would eventually develop a signature style, inevitably becoming static and predictable, Krasner remained committed throughout her artistic career to exploration, permutation and pure freedom.

Emblematic of this commitment is the artist’s recollection of how she began making collage: “It started in 1953—I had the studio hung solidly with drawings... floor to ceiling all around. Walked in one day, hated it all, took it down, tore everything and threw it on the floor, and when I went back—it was a couple of weeks before I opened that door again—it was seemingly a very destructive act. I don’t know why I did it, except I certainly did it. When I opened that door and walked in, the floor was solidly covered with these torn drawings that I had left and they began to interest me and I started collaging. Well, it started with drawings. Then I took my canvases and cut and began doing the same thing, and that ended in my collage show in 1955” (L. Krasner quoted in B. Diamonstein, Inside New York’s Art World, New York, 1979, p. 205). Held at the Stable Gallery, the artist’s exhibition of collage was later referred to by Clement Greenberg as one of the most important exhibitions of the entire decade. Bird Talk was included in that show, and is the first known large-scale work that Kranser signed on the front with her full name.

Harnessing destruction as a form of creation, Krasner forged a mode of expression that was simultaneously self-affirming and self-effacing. Combining elements of painting, drawing, collage and even photography, Bird Talk retains a remarkably contemporary aesthetic. Another important element of the work is the invocation of language in its title. For Krasner, language was an integral element of the self, and her emphasis on its importance had featured in her work since the late-1940s, when she began to frequently incorporate sequences of glyph-like shapes and cryptic symbols as all-over motifs. Whereas in these earlier works, the calligraphic markings appear in nearly legible intervals and grids, such as in Painting No. 19, 1947-1948, Bird Talk presents the viewer with a chaotic, even menacing barrage of beaklike prisms and shapes resembling talons or wings. It is a work of staggering ferocity and animal dynamism that defies comprehension, but nevertheless speaks to something primitive and essential in the heart of human consciousness.

In the decades following the Stable Gallery exhibition the year it was made, Bird Talk was shown many times across the country in numerous museums, as well as in the United Kingdom, but its crowning exhibition was certainly the widely-acclaimed retrospective, Lee Krasner: The Education of an Artist which debuted at the Houston Museum of Arts in 1983 and ended in New York, at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1985. At 75 years of age, this was Krasner’s first major retrospective. She attended the opening in Houston but passed away before she could witness the vindication of her artistic career at the hallowed grounds of the MoMA. In her review of the retrospective for New York Magazine, Kay Larson discussed the importance of the collage works in particular: “When the cut-up pieces were re-assembled on an empty canvas, the fragments became absorbed in a web of post-Cubist space, like shards of exploded glass caught at the height of their arc in a moment of weightlessness. Collages such as Shooting Gold or Bird Talk are small masterpieces of Abstract Expressionism... They are as forceful as a freight train” (K. Larson, “Lee Krasner’s Enduring Gestures,” New York Magazine, 14 January 1985, pp. 48-51).

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