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Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty

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This year we present the first major UK exhibition of woodcuts by leading Abstract Expressionist, Helen Frankenthaler.

Frankenthaler (1928–2011) is recognized among the most important American abstract artists of the 20th century, widely credited for her pivotal role in the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Color Field painting. She experimented tirelessly throughout her six-decade long career, producing a large body of work across multiple mediums. Opening ten years after her death, this exhibition shines a light on the artist’s groundbreaking woodcuts, which appear painterly and spontaneous with expanses of colour and fluid forms. It will reveal Frankenthaler as a trailblazer of the printmaking movement, who endlessly pushed possibilities through her experimentation. 

“Exploring Frankenthaler's proofs and processes, we'll show the painstaking work behind these beguiling woodcuts – revealing just how accomplished Frankenthaler was in modulating control and spontaneity in her art.”

Jane Findlay, Head of Programme & Engagement at Dulwich Picture Gallery, and curator of Radical Beauty

Exhibition highlights include East and Beyond (1973), created by printing onto multiple blocks to avoid negative space and Cameo (1980) in which Frankenthaler introduced a new layered approach to colour using her ‘guzzying’ technique where she worked surfaces with sandpaper and dentist drills to achieve different effects. Frankenthaler’s masterpiece, Madame Butterfly (2000) is also not to be missed – sharing its title with the 1904 opera by Giacomo Puccini, the triptych’s light pastel colours and stained marks show Frankenthaler at her most expressive and lyrical. Created in collaboration with Kenneth Tyler and Yasuyuki Shibata from 46 woodblocks and 102 colours, the work measures over two metres in length and will occupy an entire room in the exhibition, along with a work proof and study to explore the complexity of its evocative title.

Image credits: Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly (detail) 2000 and Tales of Genji III (detail), 1998; Helen Frankenthaler in her studio working on a carving for Madame Butterfly, 2000 © 2020 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / DACS / Tyler Graphic Ltd., Mount Kisco, NY