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A dazzling biography of one of the twentieth-century's most respected painters, Helen Frankenthaler, as she came of age as both an artist and a woman in the vibrant art world of 1950s New York At the dawn of the 1950s, a promising young painter named Helen Frankenthaler, fresh out of college, moved to New York City. By the decade's end, she had succeeded in establishing her A dazzling biography of one of the twentieth-century's most respected painters, Helen Frankenthaler, as she came of age as both an artist and a woman in the vibrant art world of 1950s New York At the dawn of the 1950s, a promising young painter named Helen Frankenthaler, fresh out of college, moved to New York City. By the decade's end, she had succeeded in establishing herself as an important American artist of the postwar period. In the years in between, she made some of the most daring, head-turning paintings of her day and also came into her own as a woman: traveling the world, falling in and out of love, and engaging in an ongoing artistic education. She also experienced anew--and made her mark on--the city in which she had been raised in privilege as the daughter of a judge, even as she left the security of that world to pursue her artistic ambitions. Brought to vivid life by acclaimed art historian Alexander Nemerov, these defining moments--from her first awed encounter with Jackson Pollock's drip paintings to her first solo gallery show to her tumultuous breakup with eminent art critic Clement Greenberg--comprise a portrait as bold and distinctive as the painter herself. Inspired by Pollock and the other male titans of Abstract Expressionism but set on charting her own course, Frankenthaler was an artist whose talent was matched only by her unapologetic determination to distinguish herself in a man's world. Fierce Poise is an exhilarating ride through New York's 1950s art scene and a brilliant portrait of a young artist through the moments that shaped her.


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A dazzling biography of one of the twentieth-century's most respected painters, Helen Frankenthaler, as she came of age as both an artist and a woman in the vibrant art world of 1950s New York At the dawn of the 1950s, a promising young painter named Helen Frankenthaler, fresh out of college, moved to New York City. By the decade's end, she had succeeded in establishing her A dazzling biography of one of the twentieth-century's most respected painters, Helen Frankenthaler, as she came of age as both an artist and a woman in the vibrant art world of 1950s New York At the dawn of the 1950s, a promising young painter named Helen Frankenthaler, fresh out of college, moved to New York City. By the decade's end, she had succeeded in establishing herself as an important American artist of the postwar period. In the years in between, she made some of the most daring, head-turning paintings of her day and also came into her own as a woman: traveling the world, falling in and out of love, and engaging in an ongoing artistic education. She also experienced anew--and made her mark on--the city in which she had been raised in privilege as the daughter of a judge, even as she left the security of that world to pursue her artistic ambitions. Brought to vivid life by acclaimed art historian Alexander Nemerov, these defining moments--from her first awed encounter with Jackson Pollock's drip paintings to her first solo gallery show to her tumultuous breakup with eminent art critic Clement Greenberg--comprise a portrait as bold and distinctive as the painter herself. Inspired by Pollock and the other male titans of Abstract Expressionism but set on charting her own course, Frankenthaler was an artist whose talent was matched only by her unapologetic determination to distinguish herself in a man's world. Fierce Poise is an exhilarating ride through New York's 1950s art scene and a brilliant portrait of a young artist through the moments that shaped her.

30 review for Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lauren King

    Deeply disappointing. It’s about time we are given a Frankenthaler biography. But this was such a let down, not only to those of us who love her work, but also, I can only imagine, to Frankenthaler if she were alive (I think she would hate it). This is a case of someone loving something too much that they cannot see it at all. It’s like standing with your nose pressed against your favorite work of art. How can you possibly see it? Nemerov does nothing but put Frankenthaler up on a pedestal, even Deeply disappointing. It’s about time we are given a Frankenthaler biography. But this was such a let down, not only to those of us who love her work, but also, I can only imagine, to Frankenthaler if she were alive (I think she would hate it). This is a case of someone loving something too much that they cannot see it at all. It’s like standing with your nose pressed against your favorite work of art. How can you possibly see it? Nemerov does nothing but put Frankenthaler up on a pedestal, even embarrassingly insisting on referring to her as “Helen” throughout the book. (Eye roll) Nemerov mixes biography with criticality and I’m not sure it works. His descriptions of her work are so vague in the attempts of being poetic that you can’t get a sense of what the work looks like. And in doing so he only feeds the issue her work has been accused of - and which he himself is trying to defend: light, feminine, non-serious, decorative. His writing is wet and does no one any favors. I found myself nauseously skipping over passages of description as if I was closing my eyes during a gruesome scene in a movie - if I don’t see it, it didn’t happen. He falls so short in leading us to understand Frankenthaler and what made her work so revolutionary and important. Instead she comes across as petty, short tempered and… lucky. I heard a talk in which he awkwardly claimed that his take on her was one with a feminist stance. With this in mind I cringed while reading his description of her personality and her personal life. It also only covers a decade of her life - UGH, really?! We are starving for Frankenthaler. Please! Making the decision to only cover the 1950’s, when she was young, emerging, and having fun love affairs. There is something about this choice that I find so sexist and tired. We never see her as a whole woman. While there are a few enjoyable pieces of information in the book - stories of her drawing chalk lines from her childhood home to the playground behind the Met, dripping her mothers red lacquer nail polish into the bathroom sink full of water while watching it bloom and bleed as the sink drained, and reading about her oh so romantic relationship with Robert Motherwell - those rare gems made it worth the read. Also, being a fan of Frank O’Hara’s poetry I also loved hearing more about their friendship and Nemerov made some nice comparisons between his poetry and her painting. Coming off the heals of reading Gail Levin’s biography of Lee Krasner, this book didn’t stand a chance. That book is so well done, if you like Kranser I recommend. If you want to read about Frankenthaler, “9th Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art” by Mary Gabriel is a truly epic documentation of New York in the 40’s and 50’s and the women painting during that time. I would also HIGHLY recommend Barbra Rose’s essay in the Helen Frankenthaler monograph (which is so beautiful). I haven’t read anything else that compares to Rose’s acute understanding and breadth of wisdom when it comes to Frankenthaler and her work. Mind-blowing. Also be sure to listen to the Getty’s “Recording Artists: Helen Frankenthaler, Let’er Rip” podcast with Barbara Rose and Cindy Nemser. Again, Rose and Nemser are so smart, and in it you hear some rare recordings of Frankenthaler speaking about her work. 3 stars - I wanted to love this book, and really didn’t. But stars for the few rare gems and because… well, it’s Frankenthaler.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Zibby Owens

    The book is about Helen Frankenthaler, an artist. From her graduation from Bennington through the age of thirty-one, the story follows Helen when she had her first one-person exhibition. Over her life,. Helen became an American artist of the postwar period in New York in the 1950s. And this book shows us all the moments that influenced her art and her life. There is a scene when Helen is feeling depressed after a bad review. "Starting around New Year's, 1953, Helen became depressed. She was payin The book is about Helen Frankenthaler, an artist. From her graduation from Bennington through the age of thirty-one, the story follows Helen when she had her first one-person exhibition. Over her life,. Helen became an American artist of the postwar period in New York in the 1950s. And this book shows us all the moments that influenced her art and her life. There is a scene when Helen is feeling depressed after a bad review. "Starting around New Year's, 1953, Helen became depressed. She was paying sick calls to her mother, who was increasingly ill...Sinking into lethargy, Helen found herself thinking that in her whole life, nothing mattered very much. Even her psychoanalytic sessions on which she usually placed great store struck her as boring. She was 'not taking myself or life or plans too seriously.' Not caring enough, she found herself taking afternoon naps. 'The sleep is wonderful, but the habit bothers me. Helen was depressed because she felt like her life was at a standstill." This captures a moment when a legend is doubting herself. I love that this is an Upper East Side book, and I spent a whole summer at Bennington, so I felt like I could experience Helen's journey. I also love how the author portrayed Helen as just another girl in her twenties in New York, yet she became an art legend. To listen to my interview with the author, go to my podcast at: https://zibbyowens.com/transcript/ale...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Alexander Nemerov only covers the first part of Helen Frankenthaler’s life and career in his book, but these were formative years in the development of her art and important and often tumultuous ones in her personal life. Frankenthaler didn’t die until 2011 at the age of 83 so there is much more to be discovered, but certainly as an introduction to the artist and her work this book does a fine job. Nemerov’s passion for his subject comes over loud and clear, although to his credit he doesn’t let Alexander Nemerov only covers the first part of Helen Frankenthaler’s life and career in his book, but these were formative years in the development of her art and important and often tumultuous ones in her personal life. Frankenthaler didn’t die until 2011 at the age of 83 so there is much more to be discovered, but certainly as an introduction to the artist and her work this book does a fine job. Nemerov’s passion for his subject comes over loud and clear, although to his credit he doesn’t let his obvious admiration prevent him from chronicling her character flaws. His descriptions of her paintings are illuminating and insightful – and for me very helpful. Although sometimes verging on a hagiography rather than a straight biography, I found the book an accessible and compelling read – although I have to admit that even with Nemerov’s excellent analysis of the work the paintings still leave me bemused and unconvinced of their merit.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Sokoloff

    Who was Helen Frankenthaler? Alexander Nemerov begins his book Fierce Poise, explaining that for many years, he (and his colleagues), were critical, as well as sceptical of the accolades Helen Frankenthaler, the modern abstract painter and creator of the soak and stain method of painting, received. It was only many years later, Nemerov says, that he came to appreciate her work for its magical properties, as he describes so beautifully, she was able to capture the joy of a moment and transfer it Who was Helen Frankenthaler? Alexander Nemerov begins his book Fierce Poise, explaining that for many years, he (and his colleagues), were critical, as well as sceptical of the accolades Helen Frankenthaler, the modern abstract painter and creator of the soak and stain method of painting, received. It was only many years later, Nemerov says, that he came to appreciate her work for its magical properties, as he describes so beautifully, she was able to capture the joy of a moment and transfer it to the canvas so that it comes alive. Nemerov describes Frankenthaler's early years. Unlike most artists, Helen was born into a wealthy Jewish family in NYC. Money was never an issue for her. The youngest of three sisters, she was the apple of her father's eye. She never ceased to amaze him, and he was certain she would achieve greatness. Her mother, on the other hand, craved attention, and always overshadowed Helen (personality clash). Helen's College years were spent away from the city with like minded women at Bennington College, in Vermont, where she received her art instruction from Paul Feeley. After college, and a visit to Europe, Helen returned to NYC to start her career. At her first (non solo) exhibit, she meets the famous art critic, Clem Greenberg, more then 10 years her senior. He immediately recognizes Helen's potential. He takes her under his wing, and in 1950-51, together with Clem, Helen enters the world of modern abstract painting. It was Clem who took Helen to Jackson Pollok's studio, where she has a revelation that leads her to create her soak stain method of painting. Fierce Poise focuses on Helen Frankenthaler in her first decade, (1950-1960), as a modern abstract artist, from Mountain and Sea in 1952, to, Before the Caves in 1958. But, Helen Frankenthaler continued to paint (as well as create art in many other mediums), her entire life. I love this book as a solid introduction to a major contributor, to the field of modern art. Nemerov does a wonderful job bringing Helen to life in the pages of his book, so much so, I'd go to an exhibit of her work tomorrow, if I could (pandemic makes this an impossibilty). For now then, thanks to this book and the internet, I've garnered an appreciation and respect for Helen Frankenthaler VIRTUALLY. Thank you #netgalley and @penguinpress for my complimentary copy of #fiercepoisehelenfrankenthalerand1950snewyork in return for my honest review. #5stars

  5. 4 out of 5

    Elisa

    (Content 4/ Narration 1) I quite enjoyed this curtailed account of Frankenthaler's life and painting during the decade of the 1950's, though I found I needed to accompany the poetical but sometimes rather abstract descriptions of particular works with Google searches of the images so I could fully absorb the insights. However, the book was nearly ruined for me by the Audible narrator who adopted a drawling, petulant, pretentious voice for Frankenthaler that made me want to slap her upside the he (Content 4/ Narration 1) I quite enjoyed this curtailed account of Frankenthaler's life and painting during the decade of the 1950's, though I found I needed to accompany the poetical but sometimes rather abstract descriptions of particular works with Google searches of the images so I could fully absorb the insights. However, the book was nearly ruined for me by the Audible narrator who adopted a drawling, petulant, pretentious voice for Frankenthaler that made me want to slap her upside the head every time she opened her mouth. It seems quite a strange (and inevitably sexist) editorial decision to intentionally trivialize the main subject of a book by constantly emphasizing how annoying she was. Listening to it required conscious resistance to the parody I was being offered.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

    This is a fairly straightforward artist profile of Frankenthaler. It’s a little lackluster in spite of the author’s clear interest and enthusiasm about his subject: maybe it’s the super privileged background that never feels like Frankenthaler was ever challenged besides the obvious misogynist culture of the US in the 50’s to of course contend with. The descriptions of the time and the thoughts expressed just never feel very immersive or a world in which I wanted to get to know better, as oppose This is a fairly straightforward artist profile of Frankenthaler. It’s a little lackluster in spite of the author’s clear interest and enthusiasm about his subject: maybe it’s the super privileged background that never feels like Frankenthaler was ever challenged besides the obvious misogynist culture of the US in the 50’s to of course contend with. The descriptions of the time and the thoughts expressed just never feel very immersive or a world in which I wanted to get to know better, as opposed to, say, the intimate and more riveting portrait that was published last year of Sylvia Plath’s life in ‘Red Comet’ who were contemporaries with somewhat similar backgrounds.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Nemerov is a fantastic writer and this book is a glimpse into a period of New York art just after the rise of the Irascibles and before the advent of Pop. I feel like "Fierce Poise" helped hill a lot of gaps for me in my understanding of the development of America's creative communities. Frankenthaler is a great subject and her adventures brought in so many other stories that this short biography is rich and textured. Nemerov is a fantastic writer and this book is a glimpse into a period of New York art just after the rise of the Irascibles and before the advent of Pop. I feel like "Fierce Poise" helped hill a lot of gaps for me in my understanding of the development of America's creative communities. Frankenthaler is a great subject and her adventures brought in so many other stories that this short biography is rich and textured.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Excellent biography of famous painter Helen Frankenthaler. Not convinced of her greatness as an artist. However, there were so few women trying to break into the men's club in 1950's NY art world. Making art is hard on the psyche. She was insecure but tough and commited to her art. I enjoyed all the stories of the personalities in her circle and the rivalries of the NY art world back then. Excellent biography of famous painter Helen Frankenthaler. Not convinced of her greatness as an artist. However, there were so few women trying to break into the men's club in 1950's NY art world. Making art is hard on the psyche. She was insecure but tough and commited to her art. I enjoyed all the stories of the personalities in her circle and the rivalries of the NY art world back then.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nikita Malhotra

    The author’s admission of not fully appreciating her work of art and growing into a space of admiring the art of Frankenthaler, who he refers to as Helen (in a very telling and organic way), gives insight into how the book is a tale of understanding the greatness of “the artist”. Loved the parts referencing frank o’hara (every time I go to fire island I can’t help but think of him).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Insightful perspectives on the early career and life of a major 20th-century woman painter. I wish there were illustrations of all the seminal paintings that Nemerov discusses at length -- but was able to find them on the internet so that I could follow his descriptive comments and analyses.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lorri Steinbacher

    Lovingly constructed biography of Helen Frankenthaler.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Teri

    I am listening to the audio book. The reader makes me dislike Helen, her lifestyle and her world. I do still love her art though.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    4.75 stars

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mary Yram

    Wow! The formatting is really good! I suggest you join NovelStar’s writing competition this April.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anna Sthesia

    After reading a good story like this one, I can't help but suggest that you should join NovelStar’s writing competition, you might be their next big star. After reading a good story like this one, I can't help but suggest that you should join NovelStar’s writing competition, you might be their next big star.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brie

    The book was well written but I just could not like the artist it was about so stopped reading halfway through. I lovedher driveto succeed as an artist but disliked her personality as it was written.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gioia

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth Young

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlin McConnell

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  22. 5 out of 5

    RiversideReader

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

  24. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

  25. 5 out of 5

    thedolphinoftruth

  26. 4 out of 5

    Willy Williams

  27. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Barber

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lily Semel

  30. 4 out of 5

    don

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