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Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
Property from an Important Private Collection
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)

(Bach’s) Sacred Theater

Details
Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
(Bach’s) Sacred Theater
signed and dated 'Frankenthaler '73' (lower right)
acrylic on canvas
120 x 94 in. (304.8 x 238.8 cm.)
Painted in 1973.
Provenance
David Mirvish Gallery, Toronto
Ace Gallery, Vancouver
Private collection, Beverly Hills
Honor Fraser Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Los Angeles, Honor Fraser Gallery, Openness and Clarity: Color Field Works from the 1960s and 1970s, June-August 2014.

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Rachael White
Rachael White

Lot Essay

A canvas of impressive scale and distinction, Helen Frankenthaler’s (Bach’s) Sacred Theater displays the luminous color, lyricism, beauty and elegance that are the signature qualities of this important proponent of abstraction. Expansive fields of paint occupy the entire pictorial space, their liquid edges flowing across and through each other creating porous boundaries of intermingled pink, light green and orange cloud-shaped bursts. Thinly applied washes of acrylic paint flow across the support surface, the color fields exhibiting rough edges and irregular shapes defined by the liquid flow of Frankenthaler’s paint.
An ode to Mark Rothko’s early Multiforms paintings, which bear witness to the steady germination of Rothko’s mature Abstract Expressionist style, here, Frankenthaler’s colors abandon their attachment to the natural world in favor of soaked layers of pure and vivid color. The contours of the color fields define the painting’s composition; form is constructed by color rather than by the act of drawing. The pigments both overlap and align along their boundary lines, without hard edges and precise margins. “The feeling-tone her paintings have projected has been the serene and beautiful, achieved by the insightful control over the elements of form: floating areas of color; occasional fountains, spurts, jets of color thrown against bare canvas; hard-edge panels or curtains of bright flat non-naturalistic color” (E. Munro, Originals: American Women Artists, New York, 2000, p. 208).
Frankenthaler creates shades-within-shades, myriad lighter and darker pinks, jades and orange-yellow within each color category. Planes of color build the architecture of work, the pigment applied with varying degrees of density, from light washes, and even the occasional splash of pigment, to deeper, more heavily built up areas. Frankenthaler’s paint technique produced waves of color, her paint not resting on top of the canvas but rather soaking into the very weave of the material, mingling with and becoming part of it.
Although painted in acrylic, (Bach’s) Sacred Theater expresses the aqueous quality so characteristic of the watercolor medium, an effect Frankenthaler deliberately sought. “She gained what watercolorists had always had—freedom to make her gesture live on the canvas with stunning directness” (E. Munro, Originals: American Women Artists, New York, 2000, p. 218). Translucence, luminosity and opacity are qualities typically associated with watercolor, but are all on brilliant display here. Setting these off, several harder-edged lines—perhaps applied with a brush rather than poured or washed across the surface—create eye-popping fissures that provide a counterpoint to the otherwise soft, and fluid contours of the color planes.
Emerging out of Abstract Expressionism, Frankenthaler became one of the most significant painters of the second half of the 20th century, defining a new style characterized by a de-emphasis on brushstroke and gesture in favor of areas of unbroken surface made up of large flat areas of solid color. She opened up new possibilities for abstract painting, while using her unique style to also make reference to figuration and landscape. A restless experimenter and innovator, “…[over] more than half a century, Frankenthaler remained a fearless explorer in the studio, investigating a remarkable range of media. She adopted acrylic paint, on canvas and paper, early on, reveling in its intensity even when thinned” (K. Wilkin, "Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011),” American Art, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2012, p. 103). Her work stands as an essential bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, offering both a new way to define and use color and new forms of nonrepresentational expression.
Frankenthaler’s work asks the viewer to focus their attention towards the very nature of paint on canvas. The surface of the canvas – and play of colors across it – are Frankenthaler’s true subject. “The feeling-tone her paintings have projected has been the serene and beautiful achieved by the insightful control over the elements of form: floating areas of color; occasional fondatins, spurts, jets of color thrown against bare canvas; hard edged-panels or curtains of bright flat non-naturalistic color” (E. Munro, Originals: American Women Artists, New York, 2000, p. 208).

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