Uncovering Discovery: Frankenthaler’s Printmaking

Exhibition Review

  • "Helen Frankenthaler Prints: The Romance of a New Medium"

  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • 20 Apr 2018 - 03 Sep 2018

Helen Frankenthaler, First Stone (1961), lithograph, 22 x 30 inches. The Art Institute of Chicago, ULAE Collection acquired through a challenge grant of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Dittmer, restricted gift of supporters of the Department of Prints and Drawings; Centennial Endowment; Margaret Fisher Endowment Fund, 1982.459. © 2018 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Universal Limited Art Editions, West Islip, NY. Courtesy Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. Photo: Tim Pyle.

Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011) is best known for a compelling body of abstractions on canvas, including Mountains and Sea (1952), in which she used a soak-stain technique that is frequently credited with inspiring color-field painting, about which more below. Less familiar to most aficionados of second-generation Abstract Expressionism, where Frankenthaler’s art is generally categorized, is her impressive body of approximately 250 prints. They include works in lithography, screenprint and pochoir, intaglio (etching, aquatint, drypoint, mezzotint), woodcut and monoprint, listed here in the order Frankenthaler first explored each technique.1 And explore she did, completing hundreds of unique proofs as part of her working process.

Now on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, “Helen Frankenthaler Prints: The Romance of a New Medium” consists of approximately 70 editioned prints and carefully chosen trial and working proofs that include hand-work by the artist and annotations for the printers. The exhibition, organized by Emily Vokt Ziemba, the museum’s director of curatorial administration for prints and drawings, is drawn from the AIC’s collection (works in their Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) archive along with several individual gifts), supplemented by nine loans from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. (Full disclosure: this writer serves as a consultant for the foundation.)

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  1. Frankenthaler: A Catalogue Raisonné, Prints 1961–1994, compiled by Pegram Harrison with an introduction by Suzanne Boorsch (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996). An excellent chronology of Frankenthaler’s printmaking activity to that point is found on pp. 491–496. []