Art Review by Hannah Tyler
One thing I love, yet have never really articulated until now, is looking at how young women see themselves. Society’s and young women’s, ideas about how this should be very rarely line up.
Lee Krasner looks you right in the eye, and her young figurative portrait shows a completely formed sense of self. In a documentary at the end of the exhibition, she talks about seeing a Matisse for the first time at MoMa as one of the great influences on her, and she is right about the need to see paintings in person. I didn’t ‘get’ Abstract Expressionism until I walked into the Clyfford Still room at a show at the RA in 2015 and thought, fuck.
I can’t begin to articulate to you what her work is about, but I had the very specific thought that I know what she’s getting at, even if I didn’t have a way of putting it into words.
The man who curated the Royal Academy show on Abstract Expressionism in 2015 included a painting by Krasner, but said:
Prejudice and other deleterious factors must be opposed when shaping any canon, yet not (pace some contemporary theory) at the expense of connoisseurship and quality: tokens are not fully fledged currency, nor are quotas. As with gender, so with race.
There is a Guerrilla Girls clutch that they sell at the TATE shop. On it is a list of the advantages of being a woman artist. These are some:
Working without the pressure of success/ Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty/ Being included in revised versions of art history.
A retrospective of Krasner’s work opened in 1983, on her 75th birthday. She died a few months later. The booklet for the Barbican exhibition read:
Yet even Krasner acknowledged that, in some respects, the lack of attention had been a ‘blessing’. Free from much critical pressure, she had made the work she felt compelled to make.
Walking into the Barbican complex, on the way to the exhibition, there is a photo of Krasner. She looks so damn cool. It was taken in 1938, but her look could have been lifted from last week. Short dark fringe cuts her face into angles, her sunglasses look like they came from Urban Outfitters and disguise the look in her eyes– but her jaw juts out defiantly. Besuited, with no top on underneath, a hint of the outline of her breast. Cigarette between black nails. It’s a damn good photo, but with the gaze of an unknown observer. This is the poster for her exhibition.
In a large room in the exhibition, there is a clear period of mourning, her work is brown, black and white. She was working at night due to her insomnia. She couldn’t bear to paint with colour only seen by artificial light. When you walk into the next room, the colour returns. The effect is as defiant as her popped jaw in that photo.
The Lee Krasner Living Colour exhibition is on at the Barbican Art Gallery until 1 September, 2019.