Illustrated Lecture and Book Signing: Dr. Gail Levin

Uploaded by BrooklynMuseum on 23.11.2011

bjbj My name is Rebekah, and I am the director of programs at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Foundation,
so I work with Dr. Sackler to provide additional programs here at the Center for Feminist Art.
I'm absolutely thrilled to be here to welcome Dr. Gail Levin as she discusses her new book,
which we have right here, Lee Krasner A Biography, the first full length account of Krasner's
influential and colorful life. As you can see, there is a book signing that will follow,
and we're really excited that Dr. Levin has agreed to do that. The Elizabeth A. Sackler
Center for Feminist Art, which opened in 2007, is an exhibition and education facility dedicated
to the past, present, and future of feminist art. As the permanent home to the iconic work
The Dinner Party, by Judy Chicago, the Center also strives to raise awareness of feminism's
cultural contributions, to educate new generations about the meaning of feminist art, and to
maintain a dynamic and learning facility, as well as to present feminism in an approachable
and relevant way. The feminist gallery, with the Lorna Simpson exhibition up right now,
I hope you have all had the chance to take a look at that, the gallery is only one piece
of the puzzle. At its core, the Center is a space for discourse, conversation, and the
exchange of ideas. So to have Dr. Levin here, and to have her share her book and research
with us, is a perfect and lovely fit. Dr. Sackler could not be here today, but she asked
me to relay the following message, It is a pleasure and a privilege to have Gail Levin
at the Sackler Center today, to share her research and insights on Lee Krasner. Unfortunately,
an immediate health issue keeps me from being here with you. Gail has been a friend and
colleague for more than a decade. Her scholarship on Judy Chicago has added enormously to our
understanding of feminist art, the great Judy Chicago, and appreciation for our iconic masterpiece,
The Dinner Party. I couldn't agree more with Dr. Sackler's words. Gail Levin's comprehensive
biography weaves her rigorous research and knowledge of the history of art with personal
anecdotes, to present Krasner as an independent, resourceful, dynamic, intelligent woman, and
a gifted artist of uncompromising talent and remarkable energy. Levin debunks previous
portrayals that depict Krasner solely as the long suffering wife of Jackson Pollock and
allows Krasner to emerge as a significant artist in her own right, a painter who deserves
a place in the 20th century's cultural history and artistic pantheon. Gail Levin is the author
of 12 books and is an expert on the lives and work of Edward Hopper and Lee Krasner,
and Judy Chicago, I would like to add. She is currently a distinguished professor of
art history at Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City of New York. She has lectured
all over the world, curated exhibits in New York City, Valencia, and Tokyo, and has photographs
in public collections in New York and in Georgia. Personally I'd like to add that she's been
a supporter of the Center for Feminist Arts since day one and I'm overjoyed that she's
here today to share her scholarship. So please help me in welcoming Dr. Levin. Thank you
very much. Don't worry, I'm not going to read, but I have maybe a teensy something to read.
It's such a pleasure to be speaking about Lee Krasner in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center
for Feminist Art. Everybody can hear well, right? Lee Krasner has been too long overshadowed
by her husband for 14 years, Jackson Pollock. She had another long relationship, 10 year
long relationship, with a different artist, Igor Pantuhoff, before she was with Jackson
Pollock. And she had a long life after his death, untimely death at age 44, in 1956.
She lived on until the age of 75 and passed away in 1984. I was privileged to know her,
as you see me here with her in front of the house she spared with Pollock in Springs,
in East Hampton, New York in 1977. I hope you can still recognize me, but I was then
a young curator at the Whitney Museum. Krasner was really a mentor to me. And I thought that
the moment was right for a biography of Krasner, and I think it was, but I have to say that
there are still a few old timers around who buy the old male chauvinist line. And even
some who have said, well, she wasn't an important artist because she was too busy being Jackson
Pollock's wife, and supporting his career. But there's really no reason that that should
take away from her career. She continued to paint and to show. And so some people are
writers that left Krasner out of the books they published on abstract expressionism since
1970, I Don't Want To Give Up the Ghost, and Let Her Into the Pantheon. But I'd like to
open up the canon for many many more women artists, not just Lee Krasner, and level the
playing field. So this is kind of ground zero for doing that here at the Sackler Center.
So I felt that I wanted to really say how far we've come but how far we have still to
go, for women artists. I think I'll share with you that I actually, maybe 17 or so years
ago, I first went out to Springs on Long Island. I'm from far away and I d never been out to
eastern Long Island. I went out because I met Krasner when I was a beginning graduate
student in 1971. I was 22 and I arranged to have an interview with her at the Marlborough
Gallery. And a colleague who recently, a few years ago, edited an article by me about Lee
Krasner, she said, How could you have had an interview with Lee Krasner when you were
only 22 years old? And I thought, Wow, it was easy. She wasn't that famous. I d just
had a course on abstract expressionism, there were no women artists in the course. This
was at Rutgers University, a doctoral course. And a new book, Abstract Expressionism, The
Triumph of American Painting, had just come out. There were no women in that book, although
Lee Krasner Pollock was acknowledged for giving her copyright permission to reproduce the
work of Jackson Pollock. And I had just done a master's thesis the year before on Henry
Moore, the British sculptor to whom I d gone to visit and interview, and then I was a year
younger and he was a lot more famous at the time. So this didn't seem like such a big
deal to get this interview, but in my research, I was saying I had it in December 1970, only
to find out it was really in January 1971. So I was only off by a couple of weeks. And
the letter setting up the interview from the Marlborough Gallery to Lee Krasner is still
in Lee Krasner's papers at the Archives of American Art. And I was able to read through
all of those papers which had a lot of goodies for a biographer, and I'm reading one particular
long handwritten letter and I'm reading it and suddenly I'm realizing I wrote this letter.
My god, she saved absolutely everything. But anyway, when I interviewed her that day I
wanted to know if Jackson Pollock had been interested in Kandinsky and if he had any
books from the Museum of Non Objective Painting when he worked there. That was the precursor
of the Guggenheim museum where Pollock worked in the basement on frames and such and there
were lots of Kandinskys. And she said, Well, I don't know but you can come out next summer
and visit me in the Springs and see for yourself. So that's what I did. And I said, but I'm
going first to Europe to interview Peggy Guggenheim about Pollock. She didn't get along with Peggy
at all but she didn't let on then. And so I went out and she invited me to stay in the
house, and I researched in the library. When I got out there I looked around me and there
were so many of her, it was all her paintings, nobody else's, no Pollocks. And I'm thinking,
Wow, she's really good. How come I haven't heard more about her? And this of course might
have been her plan because it turned out, when I was researching the biography, that
all along she d had a written inventory made, years earlier, of the books in the library
in Springs. So she could have just said, Here, have a look for yourself, but she didn't,
she invited me out where I got to see her work and got to know her. And she could never
have imagined that I would turn up five years later to be a curator at the Whitney Museum
and able to co organize, with another museum, a show called Abstract Expressionism, The
Formative Years, in which I would put her work in the show and write about her in the
catalog. And although my colleague was happy to have her in the show, it was my idea to
put in her work done when she was a student with Hans Hoffman. And she said, why do you
want to put in that student work? And I said, because I want to show that you were abstract
and modernist before you were with Pollock. Trust me Lee, it's really important. And to
her credit, she did. And the critics picked up on her in that show and pronounced that
she was indeed a first generation abstract expressionist. But all of the older critics
didn't want to let her into the pantheon, so a few of them are still putting up a fuss.
But we know, at least I think we know, I know, that she belongs. So I was going to tell you
that I was in my home that I ended up buying out in Springs, I used to have a home out
there, I don't any more, but I'm still on eastern Long Island. But anyway I had a house
kind of around the corner, up the street and around the corner from where I visited Krasner,
and I got it five years after her death. So I have very happy memories, and I had a dream
when I was there. I was actually asleep next to my husband and I never have dreams like
this, I almost never remember my dreams, but in this dream there was a great thud and through
the curtain like an Edward Hopper etching, Evening Wind, the lace curtain we had was
blowing in the second floor window and in slipped a figure with a great thud, dressed
in white. Comes over, grabs me by the shoulders, shakes me and says, Gail, wake up. Wake up.
Why aren't you writing about me, why aren't you correcting all these lies? So I got the
idea that Krasner wanted me to write her biography. And I thought, I can't do this. This is one
of the reasons I thought I can't do this. This is her painting, I love it, from 1957,
called Listen. But how do you interpret it? Especially when she said, I can remember when
I was painting Listen, which was so high keyed in color, I ve seen it many times since, and
it looks like such a happy painting. I can remember when I was painting it, I almost
didn't see it because tears were literally pouring down. So here she tells us that her
seemingly happy paintings were painted in a moment of great sadness and tragedy. This
is, in fact, just the year following Pollock's death that August 1956, and it's not surprising
that she was feeling very sad, very bereft. But in a sense, maybe, the colors are a reaffirmation
of a life and that she was going to go on and go on painting, because for her that was
life. She's not the only painter for whom painting or light is the life force, but it
certainly was true for her. Nature, which we can also see in this painting, is very
central to Krasner's work. But having written a biography, and I was writing the biography
of Edward Hopper at the time I had the dream, and his work is so figurative, it's so easy
to interpret. You don't have to imagine if there's a man or woman's body, you can just
see it. So this was a greater challenge. But one that I think was a very rewarding one.
Then just to show you two more paintings. Oh, thank you. Two more artworks from the
same period. Oh, are they both bubbly? Thank you, OK. Sorry. Two more artworks from the
same period, a collage from a great show that she had in 1955, called Bald Eagle. Now she
never decided I'm going to paint a picture of a bald eagle. She simply assigned titles
after the work was finished. And you can see why she would decide to call this Bald Eagle.
She's using scraps from both her work and Pollock's work here. Just discards. There
s a whole story in the biography about how she came to do collage. And in any event,
she didn't name all her paintings herself, that's another problem. Sometimes the painting
names are by her, and sometimes they're not. So are they clues to the meaning or aren't
they? But they basically are clues, because even if someone else helped her name it she
rejected a lot of the names, and we have evidence of that. One dealer from Detroit sent her
all these titles for the works that were going to be in her show and she rejected most of
them. So we know that even though she took suggestions she didn't accept everything.
Now this painting on the right, Three in Two in 1956. When Pollock died Krasner was in
Europe, and she had gone to Europe because she wanted Pollock to go with her. He didn't,
and then she wanted him to make up his mind whether he was going to stay in the marriage
or stay with the woman he was having an affair with, Ruth Kligman, who died recently and
wrote a memoir called Love Affair. I think that this is influenced by Matisse's Bathers.
That's not so unusual to say that. But you can see forms of human figures here and Three
in Two, I think, I think the twosome, the dyad of Pollock and Krasner, was interfered
with by a third wheel, Ruth Kligman. I think that's what this painting is about. But can
I prove it? No. So, this is the issue in writing a biography of an abstract artist. Well to
give you an idea of Krasner's background. She comes from, well she's born in Brooklyn,
in Brownsville, then the family moved to East New York, not so far from here. But the parents
came from what was the pale of settlement in the Russian empire and is today the Ukraine,
right where that little asterisk is, right here. Shpikov, a small town known as a shtetl.
Which actually they had to flee pogroms, government sponsored attacks on Jews. So many, many Jews
immigrated to the United States from the 1890s until the immigration quota of 1924. This
is the family before Krasner was born, Anna and Joseph Krasner, her older brother Irving,
her sisters, three surviving sisters, one died as a child in Ukraine. And these are
my photographs taken last summer while visiting Shpikov. I just had to see it and there's
still Jews living there. There's still somebody named Krasner in the town. It's written in
Slavic with the double S, which is how they spelled it when the family first came. Lee,
in fact, was spelling it that way until she changed it later in life. And there s still
a Jewish cemetery, and you can see it's not in too bad of shape compared to others in
Ukraine. While I was there I went to visit Ternovka, my great grandparent's shtetl, which
is very close as the crow flies to Shpikov, Krasner's family shtetl. And I found out why
she reminded me of my grandmother so much. This is Lee, the older of the two children,
with her younger sister Ruth. They were both born in Brooklyn and both spoke mainly English
although the family spoke Russian and Yiddish. She could understand a little Yiddish but
never really learned Russian. Languages were not her forte. She loved to hear Joseph, her
father, tell her stories. She said they were marvelous tales about forests. Beautiful stories,
always like Grimm, scary things. And she was afraid of sort of the unknown, ever since
she was a child. We don't know what happened. Her older brother Irving was very doting as
an older brother. Now if you read the Pollock biography you read that he didn't like her
at all but I say hokum. The source for that was her younger sister Ruth who was very jealous.
And she survived Lee Krasner so she could tell any story she wanted. Ask yourselves
have you ever known a jealous sibling, or been one. Anyway, Irving used to read to Lee.
Her name was Lena, her given name. So she was Lena Krassner, with two Ss. He used to
read the great Russian authors, some Dostoyevsky to Turgenev. She remembered this and spoke
about it. I interviewed a lot of surviving family members including three of her favorite
nieces. One of whom has since died, another Brooklynite. Maybe some of you knew Rusty
Kanokogi, who became an Olympic, well, a judo star, and attributed great influence to her
Aunt Lee. Anyway, another author that Irving read to her was the Belgian poet, playwright,
and essayist Maurice Maeterlinck. He wrote the famous play The Blue Bird, and lots of
nature studies. I think that her engagement with nature, certainly, and she spoke about
flowers that she loved as a child, and those are exactly the ones Maeterlinck wrote about.
She said that when she grew up in East New York it was rural in those days. She spoke
of going to this farm, which I even found, this Dutch farm, to bring home a pail of milk
for her family. Which she didn't like, but they did, so she went and got it. Anyway,
this is her wonderful large canvas, bigger than this screen, Right Bird Left Bird, from
1962. And another one of those collages, related to the Bald Eagle I showed you called Bird
Talk, of the same year 1955. I'm not going to go into it here but there's also evidence
that Krasner was dyslexic, which wasn't even known back then. But she was very intellectual,
loved to be read to, including by me. But by many of her friends, or all of her friends,
anyone that would. She really couldn't deal with driving. She learned late and gave it
up. She had left right confusion, which is common to dyslexics. So Right Bird Left may
be the only painting about it. But there s another one that reveals it. I would like
to quote, she said, I would like to soar in a canvas. She told that to the Brooklyn art
critic Cindy Nemser, feminist art critic. And today I would like to pay homage to Cindy,
I'm sorry she's not here, and to the late Hermine Freed. I'm going to show you a video
clip of her 1972 early video interview with Krasner. And to Barbara Rose, as well. I'll
show you a clip from her film on Lee Krasner called Lee Krasner, The Long View. Krasner's
love of nature can be seen here where she allows Caw Caw, Jackson's pet crow, to land
on her head in their Springs house, the yard, in 1947. And their dog Gyp, they had another
one, Ahab. This is a major painting in the Dallas Museum from 1968, it's huge, bigger
than the screen, called Pollination. Maeterlinck, lo and behold, wrote a whole book, very popular,
translated into English, called The Life of the Bee. And another one, The Life of Flowers.
So Pollination is very central to that. And how many of you know an artist who includes
lettuce in the major statement about their art? Maeterlinck had written about the remarkable
ability of a lettuce leaf to defend itself against attacks from slugs. You could take
that as a metaphor for attacks by male chauvinists. But anyway, she wrote at the time of her retrospective
at Whitechapel Art Gallery, her first retrospective exhibition in 1965. She made this statement,
Painting for me, when it really happens, is as miraculous as any natural phenomena, as
say a lettuce leaf. By happens, I mean a painting in which the inner aspect of man and his outer
aspect interlock. By the way when I first met Lee, when I got to the gallery, the Marlboro,
I was early. I sat down. The director handed me this catalog with this statement from the
Whitechapel Art Gallery and said, Here, you'd better read this. She's an artist too. Because
I was of course interviewing her about Pollock. She was as nice as she could be about it.
In The Blue Bird the fairy sends out two children to look for a visionary diamond to cure her
sick daughter. One turn you see the inside of things, one more you behold the past. Another,
you behold the future. Subsequent adventures take the children in search of The Blue Bird,
the land of memory, the palace of the night, the kingdom of the future. And we can see
these themes in Krasner's mature painting. In her painting Spring Memory, The Land of
Memory, right? Memory of Love, from 1966. And I'll let you read about who the post Pollock
lover was, a man named David Gibbs. He's a very colorful character. You can read about
him in the book. Night is a very central theme. Nightlife, one of her little image paintings
from 1947, Night Watch from 1960, lots of eyes there. Whoops. Night Bloom and Cobalt
Night from 1962, and Night Creatures, and this I couldn't resist, one of the creatures
of the night on the eastern end of Long Island is, of course, the great horned owl. And I
see the owl eyes in Krasner's painting. I don't know if she put them there intentionally,
or afterwards she saw they were there and said, Night Creatures. Her engagement with
time is very important. With the future she had this painting on the easel when she left
for Europe, and it's called Prophecy. And it is figurative. It was very disturbing to
her. She saw the eye on the black upper right corner, kind of like the evil eye. And there
she is right after Pollock's death when she's returned to find she had left that painting
and on her easel. It's right here in this photograph. Also in her 1977 show, 11 Ways
to Use the Words To See, she dealt with past, present, and future, as in Future Perfect,
the one on the bottom from 1976. There's a really fun story about her running into the,
or the young artist, Deborah Kass, running into Krasner at that show and their little
encounter, which Deborah related with me and is in the book. If we take Lee back to her
childhood, and PS 72 in Brooklyn, her favorite teacher was Mr. Walrav, because he thought
that it was great for the girls to play on the softball team with the boys. She said,
That was my kind of guy, and she really wanted to be a player, she wanted to be one of the
boys. What she didn't like was when she went to the synagogue with her father, and she
was told to go upstairs to sit with the women because the men and women were so separated
in the orthodox synagogue. And yet, she said, I went to the services partly because it was
expected of me, but there must have been something beyond, because I wasn't forced to go, and
my younger sister did not. She and her younger sister were so different. In previous books
it's been alleged, this is because of the younger sister, for example, that Lee refused
to marry the widower of their older sister Rose, who died suddenly, it turns out, of
appendicitis, and left two small girls, little nieces, Muriel and Bernice. I was able to
interview Muriel, at least. And Ruth claimed that since Lee wouldn't marry William Stein, she had to, and she was only
14 years old. Can you imagine a cruel sister making her 14 year old sister marry the widower?
Trouble was she was almost 19. She lied about her age. So I went and got the death certificate
of the sister Rose, and the marriage certificate of sister Ruth, and the truth comes out. So
Lee just simply had other plans. She was already 20 and she wasn't about to marry this guy.
But she was a very doting aunt, as her two nieces referred to her as their other mother.
Muriel told me so many stories about how great not only Aunt Lee, but they loved her boyfriend
Igor Pantuhoff. It was the one that followed, Jackson Pollock, they weren't so crazy about.
So when she graduated, she didn't know why but she decided she wanted to go and become
an artist. She already knew it at age 13. She found the only school where you could
become, study art, and that was Washington Irving in Manhattan. But they were full so
she had to go to Girl's High, here in Brooklyn, for half a year. And she was going to study
law. She hated it, and lo and behold a place opened up at Washington Irving. And the subway
had just opened so it was easy for her to get to Manhattan, right on Irving Place. The
school was filled with murals. Even today it looks just the same. And here's Lee as
she was in high school. This is her on the far right with her two nieces and her sister
Rose and her mother. Those are the ones I'm referring to, that were orphaned when the
woman in the middle, Rose, passed away. When Lee entered high school she, Lena, entered
high school, she changed her name from Lena to Lenore. Now where did she get Lenore? She
told one interviewer how much she loved reading Edgar Allen Poe at this time and I thought
ah ha, The Raven. It turns out Lenore is in more poems than just The Raven, for the rare
and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore, nameless here forevermore. So her
name came right out of Poe, and she kept it as her legal name for the rest of her life.
She goes on to Cooper Union, and of course there's all kinds of literature you can read,
feminists writing how she had a male identity and how she changed her name to Lee to pretend
that she was, so you couldn't tell her gender. But it turns out when she was at this, then
all girl's school, Cooper Union, in the school newspaper they talked about, Will Lee Krassner,
with two Ss, Will Lee, L E E, Krassner put up her hair and talked about Lee Krasner's
eyelashes. And that was her nickname and by 1930, in the U.S. census she lists herself
as Lee Krasner. And she had only, well this was an all girl's school. The boys who went
there to study architecture even had a separate entrance. There was absolutely no mixing.
So I don't really think she changed her name to hide her gender. It simply was a nickname.
And yes, it probably became convenient. There's even a myth about Grace Hartigan changing
her name. She exhibited as George, but it turns out that, if you read the real interview
where she says, The real reason I did it was I had so many gay male friends and they all
had female pseudonyms, so I took George. Because nobody was really fooled, you know, artists
would show up at their opening. People knew the gender of the artists. Her teachers at
Cooper Union were mostly male, although Ethel Traphagen, who taught costume design, which
Lee studied, was of course a woman, and made her own school of fashion design. But Charles
Hinton was impossible for Lee. He told her, he was very academic and conservative, he
said her work was far too messy. She had to work in alcoves were you had to do the hands
and feet in the first alcove. Then, if you were good enough, you had to do the torso.
And finally, if you were good enough, you got passed to the full figure, and only then
could you get into life drawing and work with a live model, instead of these casts of antique
sculpture. She was stuck somewhere in torso. Finally, a teacher, Mr. Hinton said to her,
Look, I'm sick of you, you're sick of me, I'm just passing you on. So then she got to
study anatomy with Victor Perard. And he liked her so much that he had her do a page of hands,
blocked hands, for his book Anatomy and Drawing. This is still at Cooper Union, and Lee told
me about this way back in the 70s, I went out to the used book market, before the Internet,
found her a copy, showed it to her. I said, Which one did you do? And she turned right
to this. And I inscribed it to her and it's still there at the Pollock Krasner House.
So, it's a nice memory. This is Krasner's self portrait that she used, and I was able
to predate it two years earlier than the catalogue raisonne, because I got the full records at
the National Academy of Design. She had been very clear she did it in the summer before
she, she got more ambitious and she applied to the National Academy of Design, got in.
She wanted to get right into life class, so she did this painting out of doors where her
parents had moved out to Greenlawn near Huntington on Long Island. She said I nailed a mirror
to a tree and spent the summer painting myself with trees showing in the background. It was
difficult, the light in the mirror, the heat, and the bugs. I even found a letter where
one of her nieces, Muriel, remembered seeing Aunt Lee painting this picture out of doors
in Greenlawn, so that really documented it. And if you notice, she's painting with her
left arm, but she was right handed, another example of her right left confusion. She's
looking in a mirror, but she's confused about what she's seeing. Not her identity. I don't
really think she looks male there. That's been written. But she was confused between
right and left. Anyway these are her parents, Anna and Joseph, out in Huntington Station,
and her sister doing the laundry. There was no running water, just like in Shpikov. And
in the little shtetl, I went from my grandparents, still no indoor running water. So this was
not a hardship on Long Island. It was normal. When the committee saw Krasner's portrait,
they accused her of merely pretending to have painted it out of doors when she really had.
And when people ask Krasner, who was she in art school with, she always named the men.
She named people like Byron Browne, Boris Gorelik, and Ilya Bolatowsky, whose mural
you see right downstairs, here in the Brooklyn Museum, from the Williamsburg Housing Project.
Actually, Lee was in the WPA, and she was going to do an abstract mural, but the war
came and ended the WPA before she got a chance to realize her mural. She did enlarge one
of de Kooning's murals for the WPA after he was thrown off the project, because he wasn't
a native born American. He wasn't an American citizen. But if you read the biography of
de Kooning, you'll read a lot of nonsense like the fact that that was in Igor Pantuhoff's
studio, that's Lee's boyfriend that she was living with for 10 years. The references to
Irving Sandler's interview with, oh what's his name? Now I'm going to forget the name.
The guy that's sharing the studio, George McNeil, thank you, is sharing the studio with
Igor. George kept saying, but Igor Pantuhoff, that was Lee Krasner's boyfriend. Anyway,
in the de Kooning biography, and in Sandler's books, it becomes, that de Kooning was in
that building, which he wasn't. Krasner had his drawing because she was assigned to enlarge
it and turn it into a mural. And she d talked about it in interviews, but the male art historians,
or historians of male artists, whatever their gender, didn't bother to look at the interviews
of Lee Krasner and find out that was her project, she was working on that. So what I've done
in this biography is to try to put Krasner back into the story, where there's real evidence
she belongs. And this is Igor. I know I've been talking about him without showing him.
And another classmate, Esphyr Slobodkina, who left a long privately published autobiography,
talking with disdain about how Lee Krasner, that ugly fellow student, got the best looking,
best artist in the class, Igor Pantuhoff, as her boyfriend. And they were both Russian,
Slobodkina and Pantuhoff, but he went for Krasner. Krasner was very popular and elected
to offices in art school at The National Academy of Design. Eda Mirsky painted this portrait
of Lee Krasner. You notice she's wearing a cross. It's in the Metropolitan Museum today.
And 1929, that must be the cross given to her by Pantuhoff, who was, like Bolotowsky,
Russian. But he was very close, you'll find out, he's so colorful, his family was very
close to the czar. If you read the story in the biography you'll see that I couldn't have
ordered up somebody better if I were a novelist or got him from central casting. He's absolutely
amazing. And here is another portrait by Eda Mirsky, a very close friend of Krasner's.
Also her older sister Kitty. This one's from 1930 when Krasner's more of a flapper at the
National Academy of Design. Now, Krasner never won any prizes. Like I said she was too messy,
but the teachers used to twit the boys about her friend Eda Mirsky, Better watch out for
that Eda Mirsky, she'll win the Prix de Rome. But she was furious when she heard that, because
she knew they never gave the substantial money prizes to girls, to women. They only gave
them to the boys. In fact, when her daughter Erica studied at High School of Music and
Art, in New York, and went to the Art Students League while she was still in high school,
and wanted to become a painter, her mother would have none of it. That's why we have
Erica Jong, the novelist. Her mother had too much male chauvinism in art school. And Molly
Jong Fast, Erica's daughter, also a writer. So it was, their father was a portraitist,
and that was the end of the line, because of the male chauvinism. Here is a self portrait
that Krasner did in art school and gave to Eda Mirsky, her friend, who gave it to the
Metropolitan Museum. And you can see it's now owned there, along with Rembrandt's Woman
with a Pink, which I think was Lee's model. She's holding the little same flower and painting
herself in chiaroscuro. Well, it was at the National Academy of Design that Eda and Lee,
and Eda is still alive, she's 100 years old. She's mostly out of it, but when I interviewed
her about Lee Krasner and told her I knew about the story when they wanted to paint
a still life of fish. They were in a still life class, but you had to go to the basement
where they kept the fish because they would stink and it was cooler and they would last
longer. And no women were allowed downstairs because of the possible hanky panky. It wasn't
chaperoned. They went down anyway. They got suspended for several days from art school.
When I asked Eda about it she perked up and she said, That was the only time I got into
trouble. But Lee said, You're not being allowed to paint a fish because you're a woman? It
reminded me of being in the synagogue and being told to go up not downstairs. That kind
of thing still riles me and it still comes up. This is Igor with some of his paintings
that won the prizes. He actually did win the Prix de Rome. So he went off for a year but
when he came back they moved in together. Friends recalled Lee as having the kind of
animal energy and voluptuousness we later came to call sex appeal. So she may not have
been a classic beauty, but she always got the best, smartest, the best artist and the
best looking guy. You notice that her family thought that she and Igor were married and
so did a lot of her friends. And when they applied to Yaddo for a visiting artist residency,
Lee wrote the letter in her hand, and it's signed Igor and Lenore Pantikoff, because
the transliteration changed, in 1934. But they never were married. And remember Esphyr
Slobodkina? She made this drawing of Lee Krasner astride a fighting cock, a commentary. Now,
here is Lee Krasner's 14th Street of 1934. My God, it reminded me so much of this Edward
Hopper City Roofs from 1932. And of course Krasner had access to a roof on 14th Street.
Hopper's painting was at the Ren Gallery, who'd have ever thought she'd gone there,
but it was there exactly the time when she painted hers. But she quickly became flatter
and more modernist. And I'm comparing her Gansevoort 1 and 2 at the top, from '34 and
'35, to Arshile Gorky's painting from around the same time. We don't know which was first.
But if you look at the lines, I don't know if you can see them very well, they're very
similar in the round yellow ball and even the red line, very similar to Gorky's organization.
They were good friends, Krasner and Gorky, and de Kooning. Krasner's family thought she
and Igor were married, and he painted this marvelous portrait of Joseph Krasner with
his Yiddish book. He used to come out and visit. Muriel, the niece, remembered sitting
on his knee, sipping wine, and that he would visit the family often, Lee living in the
house in East New York. This is Igor's portrait of Lee, about whom Fritz Bultman commented,
With Igor Lee has a sparkle and a gaiety. Then just quickly to show you her painting
Bathroom Door, which was hanging in the house when I went out there and is very Matissian,
with a view into a second space. The figure in the bathtub, of course, reminds one of
Matisse's Blue Nude, on the lower left, with the arm up. The sculpture Matisse painted
so often, and the table in the foreground, also like Cezanne. If this were the 18th century
we could think of the broken pottery like the broken eggs in Greuze's painting in the
Metropolitan Museum, which refers to the lost virginity. And although we're after the roaring
20s Lee is living, quote, in sin or in a companionate marriage, which is not a real marriage, with
Igor for 10 years. Also makes you think of the Bride and Bachelor, by Duchamp. Both Igor
and Lee were on the WPA and she recalled you had to qualify for relief first, you had to
prove you had no means of visible support. That's one of her paintings after Matisse.
She joined the Artist's Union, which published Art Front Magazine, because they protected
artist's rights, but they were always getting laid off. They didn't make very much money,
but it was a way to survive in the Great Depression. There were no way artists could get jobs or
sell a work of art. Simply there wasn't collecting. Ah, maybe if you were Edward Hopper, and you
became famous by then, you could sell a picture. But it was even rough in the middle of the
30s for him. This is Max Spivak, who was Lee's supervisor. She was on the WPA with future
art critic Harold Rosenberg. Some people think she taught him everything about art. I don't
think she taught him everything, but I think what he didn't learn from Lee he learned from
other female art critics, with whom he had affairs. He didn't have one with Lee. Here
he is. He was married all his life, despite being a womanizer. And there he is with his
delightful daughter and May Tabak, a marvelous writer that he was married to. I hope you
will read about the back story of his very famous, almost biblical text, American Action
Painters. Because you'll never read it again the same after you hear what was going on.
So Lee joined the Hoffman School, as I mentioned. I'm wondering if this is her. What do you
think? In the back, in profile. Yeah. I think it may be. It's a different hairdo. This is
her work after seeing the Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism show, at MoMA, organized by
Alfred Barr. So her work is on the left and it's clearly influenced by de Chirico s classicism,
and those big eyeballs also. See the little cross in the background on the horizon? I'll
show you where it comes from, right out of this catalog, Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism.
But fantastic artist, the grande ville, with the little cross, and the repeated eyes, but
the big eyes, also in the catalog, Odilon Redon, The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts
Toward Infinity. So she was mining that exhibition. Pantuhoff s work, you can see what it looked
like. He was once modernist. And there they are having fun on the beach in Provincetown.
Again in Provincetown together with Perle Fine and George Mercer. Anyway, he left but
you can see where this note, which he sent her later, they got back in touch. It says,
To hell with Christianity. And his parents, you'll read, were so close to the czar they
were quite anti semitic. So there he is painting her father with the, holding the Yiddish.
And the parents refused to meet Lee because she was Jewish. So they never got married,
I think that's the reason. There he is. He was also something of a womanizer. So she
instead takes up with Jackson Pollock, whom she meets before Igor departs, in 1936 at
an Artist s Union dance. She didn't know his name then, supposedly. He stepped on her feet.
He was in the Siqueiros workshop, learning new means, which you end up working with industrial
paint, which he would later do in his famous drip paintings. Krasner did it too. And I'm
going to skip ahead. They used to hang out at the Jumble Shop in Greenwich Village. She
said, With Gorky and de Kooning you had to believe Picasso was a god, she said, to get
a seat at the table. Here you can see Krasner, de Kooning, and Gorky all in a row with their
paintings. They're all very similar in the 30s. This is when she studying with Hans Hofmann.
Igor studied with Hans Hofmann also, before Krasner, and he was too avante garde for him,
but she got curious and went there. Hofmann loved her work. He said, My God, this is so
good you would never know it's by a woman. She said, Before you can enjoy the warmth
of a compliment like that he threw on the cold water. There she is on the Hofmann summer
school in Provincetown. I don't know if you see her on the lower right, second row. We
have the moment when there are breadlines everywhere. It's The Great Depression. Everybody
feels very hungry. They're laid off. Igor can draw amazing representational portraits.
Here is a self portrait and one of Lee. But he leaves. His parents entice him to leave
her, to go to Florida where he can earn money because they have no money. They sell their
phonograph. They can't eat. They've been thrown off the WPA. Everybody got thrown off. If
you'd been on 18 months you were unemployed. And there was no other employment. No jobs
at all. So he leaves in the dark of night, he leaves everything behind. He sends her
this note and this drawing of himself reclining in Florida with a pelican, under a palm tree.
Look at the palm tree. That's Igor. But he came back. She writes, meanwhile, she moves
to a smaller studio, writes from Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, these lines, To whom shall
I hire myself out? What beast must one adore? What holy image attack? What hearts must I
break? What lie must I maintain? In what blood must I walk? She had actually Byron Browne
write this on her studio wall because she liked his handwriting. She told me that. There
she is at this time. She decides to start showing with American abstract artists, with
people like George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen There were many artist couples, the so called
Park Avenue cubists. So they weren't so chauvinistic. And that's when she meets an honorary member
who arrives in New York, Piet Mondrian, with whom she went dancing, and about her work
when they were showing together, he said in front of her painting, You have a strong inner
rhythm, never lose it. She loved to tell that story. And you can see her mosaic collage,
which I think is related to his Broadway Boogie Woogie. Igor though, comes back. This is his
portrait of Jeanne Lawson who married Fritz Bultman, whom I interviewed, she died only
about a year ago, and that's Lee's portrait, another one by Igor. And Jeanne said that
all Igor wanted to talk about was Lee, right? And he eventually introduced Jeanne to Fritz
Bultman, whom she married. And there's Lee talking to Fritz Bultman at Martha Jackson's
home. Here's another one of her pursuers, Aristodimos Kaldis, another good looking guy.
Writing to her, I hope that during the coming year, 1941, you'll descend from the ethereal
cosmos into our prosaic world, Aristo. And it's a postcard of an Aztec goddess of flowing
water, so she was kind of a goddess to them. And John Graham then puts her into a show,
Miss Lenore Krasner on East Ninth Street, together with an artist she said she hadn't
heard of, she goes to visit him, it's Jackson Pollock that stepped on her toes a few years
earlier at the Artist's Union dance. And he puts Birth in, she puts a painting like the
one on the left, but already they start to become a couple and she moves in with him
by 1942. But Igor comes back and Pollock drives Igor out, throwing crockery at him to get
him to go, because he wasn't over Lee at all, he realized what he'd given up, but Lee had
moved on. And so she paints this painting which is the head of a rooster as a sign that
she's gone on and I think the iconography, a girl who went to a farm to fetch a pail
of milk and whose parents had chickens on Long Island, understood that the rooster is
not monogamous, but he doesn't let other roosters come to his hens. And so Igor transgressed,
he came back, but Pollock drove him away. And so Igor is the errant rooster and she's
moved on, and maybe she remembered the Lee Krasner Riding a Rooster, I don't know if
she knew this post Slobodkina or not, but the rooster imagery, the cock imagery, must
have been popular then. And so there's lots more in the book but I'll let you read it.
Of course Pollock becomes, perhaps America's greatest living painter by 1949 in Life magazine.
And we know, without Lee, Jackson Pollock, we would not know about. I'll just leave you,
her good friend Mercedes Matter posed on the beach with this driftwood for her husband
Herbert Matter in 1940 and it reminds of us of Stieglitz's portraits of O'Keeffe, but
in Harold Rosenberg's famous American Action Painters, he writes about a piece of wood,
found on the beach, becomes art, Modern art does not have to be new, it only has to be
new to somebody, to the last lady who found out about the driftwood. And he left diaries
documenting his simultaneous affair at this moment with Mercedes Matter and Elaine de
Kooning, Bill's estranged wife, Willem de Kooning's estranged wife, while married to
mate Natalie Tabak and father of a daughter. So, Lee was pretty resentful about this article.
I don't think she knew, well maybe she did know the driftwood reference because this
photograph turned up, a copy of it in the Pollock Krasner house, but we don't know who
gave it to whom, whether Herbert gave it to Pollock, I doubt it because he was a long
suffering husband, or whether Mercedes gave it in her flirtation, which is documented,
to Pollock. We don't know how much more than a flirtation it was. But anyway, she and Jackson
posed with this little Raphael Gribitz in 1952. He turned out to become an artist. They
never had any children of their own, but it's not true that Lee didn't like children, she
just had one in Jackson and he was more than a brood to take care of. So, the rest is history,
I hope you'll read it. Thank you very much. Oh I could answer a couple questions. Are
you going to show the film clip? Oh, I forgot, I'll show that little clip. I didn't know
if my voice would hold up and I totally forgot. I'll show you two clips. This is Hermine Freed.
Were you conscious as a young girl, artist, in the earlier days of your career, were you
conscious of the fact that there was some kind of prejudicial view toward you because
you were a woman? Well, not in the very beginning, it seemed natural enough for me to want to
major in art and stay with art. You know, there was a series of incidents in early studies,
but it never presented itself as a really serious threat. There were always other women
around, I was never isolated or freakish in that sense that I was the only woman in a
given situation. It was also pretty firmly established onto kicking up against a blank
wall insofar as the history of art has never produced great women painters. Okay, one is
confronted with that and somehow or other it didn't seem to stop me. I agree that the
history of art cannot bring up examples in the female role that can hold to the male,
nothing I can do about it, but I proceed anyway. That was a question of social consciousness
anyway? Many things come into question, more than just social consciousness here. It's
a whole evaluation of the role of the female in all Western thought for heaven's sakes,
Judeo Christianity, her role in it. Now I'm not, there's nothing I can do about those
5,000 years or so, but like, I'm alive now and going about my business. So my annoyance
is with the, not the fact that in the past it was so, but today's annoyance. You know,
the prejudice today, the intolerance today is something that one begins to lose patience
with. It's too late. Right, exactly. OK, now I'm gonna play another one, and I have to
kind of cue it up. This is from Barbara Rose's Lee Krasner, the Long View. It's also not
going to be too long. So Gail, can I ask you before you say something? Yeah, go ahead.
It's almost as if she's accepting that there are no female artists. Yes. She felt, this
is. So it isn't that history erased females. No, no, no. This is before she knew about
feminist scholarship, so when she got arrested, all the artists, for demonstrating during
the WPA, all the artists, the men artists, would give male names and in court they'd
all look around to see who was Picasso. She said, I had only, that she gave the name Mary
Cassatt. She said, I only had the choice between Rosa Bonheur and Mary Cassatt. She didn't
know of other artists from history. I don't know why this isn't opening. Oh here. There
it is. OK. I have to. This is Marsha Tucker. I had lots of jobs to support my art. Before
WPA I was a waitress. I had to wear silk pajamas. I remember Harold Rosenberg because he never
tipped. Later I modeled. I'll put it. Here, I'll put it. Did it come up? Yeah I do. I
don't know. You don't need that, it's not on that. Hold that off. I'm finished with
that. Yeah, I do. Where's my computer? I guess. Okay. There we go. Eff. OK. Here it is, yeah.
It won't work. Why won't it work off the drive? It will. There it is. I know, now I want to
pull it over. I don't want to play the whole thing. No, it's too long. This is Marsha Tucker
talking about her show. That she is at ease in that heroic or monumental dimension. And
then it was like a contest, when you were there, about, like, who did it best. OK. I
think Barbara' going to re release her film next fall. That's Barbara Rose, The Long View.
I hope you'll read the book. For those of you that want to buy it or already have it
I'll be happy to sign them now. Thank you. hBCq [Content_Types].xml u$Nw @8Jb _rels/.rels
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