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Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

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Five women revolutionize the modern art world in postwar America in this "gratifying, generous, and lush" true story from a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times). Set amid the most turbulent social and political period of modern times, Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating chronicle of Five women revolutionize the modern art world in postwar America in this "gratifying, generous, and lush" true story from a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times). Set amid the most turbulent social and political period of modern times, Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating chronicle of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of twentieth-century abstract painting -- not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they worked, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and countless others to come. Gutsy and indomitable, Lee Krasner was a hell-raising leader among artists long before she became part of the modern art world's first celebrity couple by marrying Jackson Pollock. Elaine de Kooning, whose brilliant mind and peerless charm made her the emotional center of the New York School, used her work and words to build a bridge between the avant-garde and a public that scorned abstract art as a hoax. Grace Hartigan fearlessly abandoned life as a New Jersey housewife and mother to achieve stardom as one of the boldest painters of her generation. Joan Mitchell, whose notoriously tough exterior shielded a vulnerable artist within, escaped a privileged but emotionally damaging Chicago childhood to translate her fierce vision into magnificent canvases. And Helen Frankenthaler, the beautiful daughter of a prominent New York family, chose the difficult path of the creative life. Her gamble paid off: At twenty-three she created a work so original it launched a new school of painting. These women changed American art and society, tearing up the prevailing social code and replacing it with a doctrine of liberation. In Ninth Street Women, acclaimed author Mary Gabriel tells a remarkable and inspiring story of the power of art and artists in shaping not just postwar America but the future.


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Five women revolutionize the modern art world in postwar America in this "gratifying, generous, and lush" true story from a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times). Set amid the most turbulent social and political period of modern times, Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating chronicle of Five women revolutionize the modern art world in postwar America in this "gratifying, generous, and lush" true story from a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times). Set amid the most turbulent social and political period of modern times, Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating chronicle of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of twentieth-century abstract painting -- not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they worked, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and countless others to come. Gutsy and indomitable, Lee Krasner was a hell-raising leader among artists long before she became part of the modern art world's first celebrity couple by marrying Jackson Pollock. Elaine de Kooning, whose brilliant mind and peerless charm made her the emotional center of the New York School, used her work and words to build a bridge between the avant-garde and a public that scorned abstract art as a hoax. Grace Hartigan fearlessly abandoned life as a New Jersey housewife and mother to achieve stardom as one of the boldest painters of her generation. Joan Mitchell, whose notoriously tough exterior shielded a vulnerable artist within, escaped a privileged but emotionally damaging Chicago childhood to translate her fierce vision into magnificent canvases. And Helen Frankenthaler, the beautiful daughter of a prominent New York family, chose the difficult path of the creative life. Her gamble paid off: At twenty-three she created a work so original it launched a new school of painting. These women changed American art and society, tearing up the prevailing social code and replacing it with a doctrine of liberation. In Ninth Street Women, acclaimed author Mary Gabriel tells a remarkable and inspiring story of the power of art and artists in shaping not just postwar America but the future.

30 review for Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”All artists succumb to self-doubt; it is the handmaiden of creation. For a woman, however, whether in Virginia Woolf’s early twentieth-century England or Joan Mitchell’s 1950’s New York, that doubt would have been the result of forces both creative and social. Of the latter, Woolf wrote, ’The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write ”All artists succumb to self-doubt; it is the handmaiden of creation. For a woman, however, whether in Virginia Woolf’s early twentieth-century England or Joan Mitchell’s 1950’s New York, that doubt would have been the result of forces both creative and social. Of the latter, Woolf wrote, ’The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?’ Many decades later, Joan would put her own salty spin on the same sentiment. ’How did I feel, like how? I felt, you know, when I was discouraged I wondered if really women couldn’t paint, the way all the men said they couldn’t paint. But then at other times I said, ‘Fuck them’, you know.’ Joan Mitchell in studio. Mary Gabriel has written a biography of five amazingly talented women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. However, his book is so much more than just the lives of these women. The influence of world events on people, especially creative people, can not be separated from the accomplishments of those who painted, wrote, and composed, who were attempting to make sense of these events with their brushstrokes, words, and music. Picasso is debatably the most famous and most influential painter of all time. His painting of Guernica is without question one of the most important paintings of all time. He brought painting forward to a different place, and in my mind, the Abstract Expressionist painters spent their lives chasing after Picasso. In the process, they broke every rule, destroyed every boundary, and remade art in their image. We call a male artist a painter without even thinking about it. We still call female artist ‘women painters.’ By the end of this book, the five women will convince you that women deserve to be called painters without designation of their sex. Trojan Gates by Helen Frankenthaler. I love this painting! Now the men are here, as well. In fact, two of the five women married the two most famous men of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. Lee Krasner married Jackson Pollock and spent the rest of his life trying to keep the man alive. She always felt like she had a ”comet by the tail.” Pollock blew everything up in the art world, but in the process he destroyed his own life and adversely affected the lives of those who cared about him. Helen Frankenthaler summed up his influence on other painters. ”Soaking it all in, Helen realized something she had not understood when merely viewing Jackson’s work on a gallery wall. Pollock didn’t paint with his hands or wrists or even his arms, he painted with his whole body. Helen saw the potential for her own work in his method. She, too, wanted to engage her entire person in her paintings, not merely the delicate extreminites that held a brush. She did not want to paint on a canvas, she wanted to paint in it.” Elaine married Willem (Bill) de Kooning, and as much as Lee struggled to find her artistic place with Pollock, Elaine had similar struggles with her relationship with de Kooning. Their marriage was beset with infidelity, artistic jealousy, and poverty. Most of the painters struggled to feed and shelter themselves and frequently had to find jobs that took them away from their canvases. Elaine wrote art reviews for magazines to allow Bill the freedom to keep searching for his voice, his expression in the strokes of his brush. Her writing helped define the Abstract Expressionist movement. ”’Whenever Hollywood does a movie on artists they don’t know how to deal with what drives an artist,’ Elaine said. ‘They always think an artist works toward fame. They can’t imagine the thrill of the actual work, it doesn’t occur to them. That, they feel is just on the side, and fame is the aim. Whereas it’s exactly the opposite. {Work} is the aim, and fame is a byproduct.’” Elaine de Kooning went through a period when she was painting men, a reverse of the concept of women as muses. Why can’t men be muses as well? I absolutely love her portraits and would have loved to have seen how she would have painting me. Gabriel covers the evolution of this art movement from the late 1920s to the early 1960s. Prohibition, the swinging 1930s, the emergence of Jazz, WW2 when the intellectuals of Europe were forced out of their countries to find a home in New York, and McCarthyism all had influence on the minds and actions of the artists. Amongst so much turmoil, is it any wonder that art needed to find new ways to express the torment? ”The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.” -----Wallace Stevens Grace Hartigan’s Persian Jacket. Awesome! Grace Hartigan was in love with the poet Frank O’Hara, and he with her. ”If a homosexual and a heterosexual could be in love, it was falling in love.” His poems influenced her art, but I felt that her painting may have influenced his poetry even more. Those who chose to love Grace or Frank had to understand that their relationship with the artist or poet was never going to eclipse what Grace and Frank felt for one another. I found their relationship exceedingly intriguing because so much of the definition of a relationship is defined by having sex. They were closer than siblings. Closer than lovers. They were frequently confused by the boundaries of their odd relationship and tempted to consummate it in the normal fashion, but the fear of destroying the precious, fragile bonds of what they had together always kept them from provoking fate. Jackson Pollock was the first celebrity artist of the movement. Lee Krasner worked tirelessly to promote his art. She wasn’t just doing it for Pollock. She knew that women abstract expressionists had no chance to ever be recognized if the men were not recognized first. She put aside her own art for long periods of time to champion Pollock. Her other, on going concern with the “comet” was keeping him alive. His epic drinking was a constant threat to his health and his legacy. She was successful at least in preserving his legacy, but I can’t help wondering if the cost to her art was too large a price to pay. Lee Krasner, Untitled 1948. The more I look into this painting it becomes a maze for my mind. I read this book every morning with a hot cup of Earl Grey, steaming in my hand. It was such an inspirational way to start the day by reading about the trials and tribulations of these five women as they forged a place for themselves in a profession that deigned to recognize the importance of their work. They persevered because they had no choice. The same fire that drove Pollock and de Kooning to create their masterpieces was an eternal flame in their bellies as well. They painted until the final veil descended. Mary Gabriel was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her book Love and Capital, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she finds herself back on that list with this book. I knew the names of these five women before starting to read this book, but their work was unknown to me. If I have seen their art, it was without truly seeing it. With all these new reference points and now knowing their place in history, I can look upon their art with eyes properly focused to see beyond just color and composition, but with reverence for how that piece of art was created and the battle it took for that artwork to even be hung on the wall of any museum. This is without a doubt the most influential and enjoyable read of the year for me. I want to thank Little, Brown, and Company for sending me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Doria

    More than just a fabulous five-way biography of five extraordinary artists, this is also the biography of a place and time and an art movement, a way of life, and a community. Mary Gabriel has fleshed out the story of the artists of the New York School, centering on their heyday during the 40s and 50s, but giving the necessary background material of their Depression-era development. If this sounds dry and academic, it’s not. The world of the Ninth Street Women and their colleagues, friends and l More than just a fabulous five-way biography of five extraordinary artists, this is also the biography of a place and time and an art movement, a way of life, and a community. Mary Gabriel has fleshed out the story of the artists of the New York School, centering on their heyday during the 40s and 50s, but giving the necessary background material of their Depression-era development. If this sounds dry and academic, it’s not. The world of the Ninth Street Women and their colleagues, friends and lovers was vibrant, dangerous, and exciting, and this book gives us the closest thing possible to a first-hand view. Mary Gabriel is sensitive to the fact that they did not live in a vacuum, but very much within a diverse and tumultuous community, one composed of complicated and ever-evolving men and women. Living amongst each other in a kind of near-incestuous intimacy, everyone within that community influenced and was influenced by each other. Yet despite their invaluable and interwoven contributions to American Art, the primary subjects of this book were virtually written out of history - mostly by virtue of being ignored and not written into Art History in the immediate decades after their flourishing - as a result mainly of systemic sexism, but perhaps also jealousy and pique on the part of at least one prominent ex-lover art critic. Thanks to painstaking scholarship and the dedicated preservation of primary materials - interviews and letters and conversations by and with family and friends - Mary Gabriel has brilliantly succeeded, not just in piecing together the necessary and extraordinary lives of Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. She has reset them in their proper context within the turbulent and fertile development and flowering of the Abstract Expressionist movement and the New York School, and she has restored them to their proper place in the firmament of American Art History.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jessie

    NetGalley ARC. I think I've been dreaming of this book since college. As a former Art History Major, I feel like I have to defend Abstract Expressionism, one of my favorite periods. While the paintings of Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Mitchell and Frankenthaler, as well as their male compatriots, may seem simple, they are deceptively complex. No, you could not have painted this Jackson Pollock, and even if you could, you didn't, he did. While the book focuses on these amazing female artists, it is NetGalley ARC. I think I've been dreaming of this book since college. As a former Art History Major, I feel like I have to defend Abstract Expressionism, one of my favorite periods. While the paintings of Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Mitchell and Frankenthaler, as well as their male compatriots, may seem simple, they are deceptively complex. No, you could not have painted this Jackson Pollock, and even if you could, you didn't, he did. While the book focuses on these amazing female artists, it is a great depiction of the emergence of America as the leader in contemporary art. The New Deal saw an increase in government sponsored art projects, mostly murals and then later, war propaganda. These projects allowed artists to make a living from their art. In addition, many famous artists and art dealers were forced to flee from Europe at the beginning of the Nazi Occupation. All of these influences converged to create a flourishing art world in NYC. While this world was more egalitarian than the old European world, women were often shunted to the side. This book goes into why the talented artists Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning largely gave up their careers to help their more famous husbands. It was interesting to learn that Krasner's career burned very bright before meeting Pollock, and she was considered the more well known artist at the beginning of the relationship. While this is a very long book, Mary Gabriel keeps it interesting, peppering the narrative with quotes from the subject's contemporaries. This is a subject that really deserves the in-depth look that Gabriel achieves.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Evi

    For a book that was about women artists, I read a lot about male artists. I was craving insight into the minds of these wonderful abstract expressionists: what inspired them, how did they develop, when did they find their style. All of this was muddled with constant anecdotes on tertiary, if not completely irrelevant figures in the women’s lives. If there was any good information on the artists, it was overshadowed by the emphasis on the relationships and love affairs, and otherwise irrelevant i For a book that was about women artists, I read a lot about male artists. I was craving insight into the minds of these wonderful abstract expressionists: what inspired them, how did they develop, when did they find their style. All of this was muddled with constant anecdotes on tertiary, if not completely irrelevant figures in the women’s lives. If there was any good information on the artists, it was overshadowed by the emphasis on the relationships and love affairs, and otherwise irrelevant information that the book goes in detail about. With that said, I appreciate the authors attention to detail and extensive research. I appreciate the time taken to really go into the depths of the artists’ lives. However, the artist and art nerd in me is craving a little more about the ART.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    DNF. I read up to chapter 26 (of 42) and then skipped ahead to the epilogue. I picked this up from a podcast rec and did not expect it to be 950(!) pages long. I've noticed the absence of female artists in discussions about art and art history, so a part of me really wanted this book to succeed. Unfortunately, I found it unnecessarily detailed (perhaps a little unrealistically so, for a second-hand biography) and the connections tenuous. I think this book would have been better served just focus DNF. I read up to chapter 26 (of 42) and then skipped ahead to the epilogue. I picked this up from a podcast rec and did not expect it to be 950(!) pages long. I've noticed the absence of female artists in discussions about art and art history, so a part of me really wanted this book to succeed. Unfortunately, I found it unnecessarily detailed (perhaps a little unrealistically so, for a second-hand biography) and the connections tenuous. I think this book would have been better served just focusing on Lee Krasner. While the cover details the "five" painters the book follows, I don't think I was introduced to Helen Frankenthaler until about chapter 20 or so? It became hard at that point to engage with these new artists being introduced when I've essentially only been following Krasner (and Elaine de Kooning, to a lesser extent) for 300 pages. I genuinely forgot this book was about five women! This was mainly a structuring issue. Another confusing structural point was following Krasner through her early years, the war, then the post-war art scene, only to have to do it all again for Kooning and the others. It would have made more sense to keep the book entirely chronological and introduce the different artists earlier. -- But, again, the issue is the lives of these women don't entirely overlap. Krasner was about 20 years older than the others, and their times of death ranged from the 1980s to the 2010s. Perhaps a stronger structure would have focused just on the period when all were active at the same time (i.e. disregard the earlier and later time frames). But I have this feeling the author, Mary Gabriel, did a lot of research on the lives of these artists and then felt too close to her subject matter to edit down her research into a clear and compelling narrative. Gabriel worked hard for her knowledge and it felt like she treated her research too preciously to disregard anything. While I understand the feeling, it doesn't always make for great writing. You know what? This feels like someone's PhD thesis turned into a book rather than something that was designed with a wider audience in mind as a first priority. The writing is readable and I think it is important to learn about these artists, but ultimately this book could have been edited down significantly and it suffers from structural issues.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Miranda Reads

    Lee had charted an alternate course in a world that told her a woman's duty was to submit to her family. This book chronicles the wildest and strongest years of these five amazing and history-changing women - as they challenge what it means to be an artist. Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler all lived through a time where women were expected to sit down and shut up...but they were not going to take that. Siren, saint, creative tempest, athle Lee had charted an alternate course in a world that told her a woman's duty was to submit to her family. This book chronicles the wildest and strongest years of these five amazing and history-changing women - as they challenge what it means to be an artist. Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler all lived through a time where women were expected to sit down and shut up...but they were not going to take that. Siren, saint, creative tempest, athlete, intellect, she could seemingly do anything better than anyone. While I'm a bit far-removed from the art world, I did enjoy reading this one. This had an incredibly thorough and in-depth look at these women's lives and how their art developed. It didn't shy away from the difficult or depressing moments and it highlighted their achievements with infectious glee. If you are looking at the complete history of these women, this book is likely the one for you! Clocking in at 700+ pages of content (with a few sections of pictures), this book truly is a labor of love (heck, the sources alone took 100+ pages). With thanks to Little, Brown and Co. and Mary Gabriel for sending me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Gabriel expertly merges historical context with artistic knowledge, making for an easy read, albeit a long one. It is a length that the reader doesn’t notice much, because they are having so much fun. Why worry about the length of a chapter when you’re following along the adventures of Grace Hartigan and Frank O’Hara? Gabriel creates a vision of these women that is stunning, and not always flattering. These are imperfect women and dedicated artists, all at once. Each chapter is a portrait of an Gabriel expertly merges historical context with artistic knowledge, making for an easy read, albeit a long one. It is a length that the reader doesn’t notice much, because they are having so much fun. Why worry about the length of a chapter when you’re following along the adventures of Grace Hartigan and Frank O’Hara? Gabriel creates a vision of these women that is stunning, and not always flattering. These are imperfect women and dedicated artists, all at once. Each chapter is a portrait of an artist and a women, existing all at once and sometimes in contradiction. Each woman's story is their own, and leaves a distinct understanding of the artist in its’ wake. In considering Elaine de Kooning: “Elaine believed in freedom. Freedom of gesture, risk in everything she touched. She showed me that abandon long practiced becomes skill.” For lovers of abstract art, both in the beginning of their art appreciation or experts of the movement. The journeys of Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, and Grace Hartigan provide a fresh lens with which to experience abstract expressionism in the fifties and sixties. Review copy provided by Little, Brown and Company in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ella A.

    Before COVID, I attended the Women Take the Floor exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. During my visit, I came to face to face with a ginormous and arresting purple canvas covered in large, bold, and scratchy swatches of paint. I was so curious about who was the magical artist had managed to create this masterpiece. Her name was Grace Hartigan and the work was entitled "Masquerade." I had never heard of Grace Hartigan before but whoever she was she was incredible. Adjacent to that wo Before COVID, I attended the Women Take the Floor exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. During my visit, I came to face to face with a ginormous and arresting purple canvas covered in large, bold, and scratchy swatches of paint. I was so curious about who was the magical artist had managed to create this masterpiece. Her name was Grace Hartigan and the work was entitled "Masquerade." I had never heard of Grace Hartigan before but whoever she was she was incredible. Adjacent to that work was yet another brilliant work. Its colors were the opposite. It made of a plethora of dull shades, from eggshell to snow to a murky, moss green splicing across the canvas in harsh brushstrokes, that looked like cuts on an ice skating rink curled and spooled together, almost exploding off of the canvas. It was, at once, frosty and imposing. The painting was entitled "Chamonix" and was a startling abstract depiction of the French mountain range. The artist was Joan Mitchell. Yet, another artist I had never heard of. After leaving the exhibition, I was profoundly curious about these artists. Who were they? Who had created these amazing pieces? A few days later, I walked into my school's library and saw them displaying a book entitled "Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art." It was a magical answer to my wishes and I excitedly embarked on reading this brick of a book. Yes, this book is almost 1,000 pages but frankly, the fact that Gabriel managed to tell the biographies 5 women in only 1,000 pages with as much as depth and sincerity as she did is a miracle. Also, I love long non-fiction books so it was full steam ahead for me. Their stories were even more incredible then I was expecting. This book tells the rich story of five hell-raisers succeeding despite being in a male-dominated art world. During their journey, there is much creativity, (and yes, partying. It's 20th-century art...) and intrigue and artistic breakthroughs. We even get appearances from Billie Holiday and Frank O'Hara and even a little story of Lee Krasner jazz dancing with Piet Mondrian. Magic. I truly hope that their rightful place is put into the history books. There would be no Abstract Expressionist Art Movement without them. No ifs or buts. Despite two of them carrying the surname of "Pollock" and "de Kooning" they were highly talented individuals and should not be seen as second fiddle to their husbands as they were just as deeply involved and influential in the development of the Abstract Expressionist Art Movement. All this to say that I highly recommend this book! There are so many more details and special parts that I wouldn't even know how to continue highlighting them in this review. So, all I can say is read it, you will not regret it! These are five incredible women and their stories deserve to be told and re-told and re-told and re-told. And, Gabriel was just the person for the job. This book will truly stand the test of time. I truly believe that this book will keep being read for decades. It's just that wonderful and revolutionary, like the artists themselves.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jennie Blankenship

    This book either needed a different name or very heavy editing. Calling it a book about five women is a joke. Half of the book is about Jackson Pollack and his circle of influence on the art community. I understand he was largely responsible for these women's art direction but to include a full biography of his life was unnecessary. This book completely encompasses the art movement of abstract expressionism, but doesn't stop there; it also includes many writers lives as well. It's not a bad book This book either needed a different name or very heavy editing. Calling it a book about five women is a joke. Half of the book is about Jackson Pollack and his circle of influence on the art community. I understand he was largely responsible for these women's art direction but to include a full biography of his life was unnecessary. This book completely encompasses the art movement of abstract expressionism, but doesn't stop there; it also includes many writers lives as well. It's not a bad book just poorly named and a little over zealous in content. It would have been much better to narrow the subject matter down. Mentioning a person as involved in someones life doesnt mean you need to include every known detail about that person. Overall I felt much of what I read in this book, while interesting, could have been cut out.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    This was the best art history / biography I’ve ever read. The book gives a great overall view of the development of abstract expressionism in the 1940s-50s with a focus on 5 courageous and talented women painters who helped define the genre. Two of them — Lee Krasner and Elaine DeKoonig — married famous men —Jackson Pollock and Bill DeKoonig. Despite their talents they were often regarded as secondary to their spouses. In fact they definitely helped the husbands overcome a lot of issues — Lee ke This was the best art history / biography I’ve ever read. The book gives a great overall view of the development of abstract expressionism in the 1940s-50s with a focus on 5 courageous and talented women painters who helped define the genre. Two of them — Lee Krasner and Elaine DeKoonig — married famous men —Jackson Pollock and Bill DeKoonig. Despite their talents they were often regarded as secondary to their spouses. In fact they definitely helped the husbands overcome a lot of issues — Lee kept Pollock sober for years. But these two women along with Joan Mitchell, Grace Harriman and Helen Frankenthaler were fantastic artists. Both Hartigan and Frankenthaler were early successes getting solo shows and being included in shows with the men. The author Mary Gabriel does a fabulous job weaving these individual stories and describing the New York scene where they interacted with other artists, like Larry Rivers, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hoffman and writers like Frank o’Hara, Kenneth Koch, Clement Greenberg, gallery and museum directors — Alfred Barr, Betty Parsons, Eleanor Miller and so many more. The book is long —722 pages—but riveting. I didn’t want to put it down except when I traveled outside the country for 10 days, it was as too heavy to carry. As soon as I returned, I was back into the world of the ‘40s and ‘50s — the artistic scene is the East Village, their studios and the bars at the Five Spot and Cedar Bar where the artists meet to talk l about their work. There are multiple relationships many often dysfunctional but deeply human. Most are very poor but all share the passion, the drive, the compulsion to paint; they can’t not paint. These four women — my heroes — were courageous; they bucked the cultural norms and followed their instincts and changed the face of art forever. Best book I’ve read in years.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    Wow wow wow! A thrilling, illuminating, and fascinating romp through the NYC art world from 1928-1959. This is a BIG book with broad scope; kudos to Gabriel for maintaining momentum throughout. I practically devoured the epilogue. Before reading the book, I knew some info about Helen Frankenthaler -- but almost nothing about Lee, Elaine, Grace, and Joan. Now I am going to dive into each of their oeuvres! Not to mention the other male and female painters and poets surrounding them. What a time it Wow wow wow! A thrilling, illuminating, and fascinating romp through the NYC art world from 1928-1959. This is a BIG book with broad scope; kudos to Gabriel for maintaining momentum throughout. I practically devoured the epilogue. Before reading the book, I knew some info about Helen Frankenthaler -- but almost nothing about Lee, Elaine, Grace, and Joan. Now I am going to dive into each of their oeuvres! Not to mention the other male and female painters and poets surrounding them. What a time it was...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aloha

    Fabulous! This book is dense with vivid details, and expertly crafted weaving through each of the woman artist’s life and the lives of the people influential in the art world . This is one of those books I wish I have time to review if I didn’t have an intense day job. I hope it wins some sort of an award or recognition. Memorable and going in my favorites.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robert Lukins

    Incredibly vivid and thorough portrait of the New York School, New York, Abstract Impressionism, painting, painters, art, artists. Everything, really. Bloody great.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary Rose

    This book is genuinely brilliant, it’s going to be on my favorites of the year for sure.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Clocking in at 722 pages, I feel like I’ve just done the literary equivalent of running a marathon. Or at least weightlifting! I was really excited for this, excited to learn more about these modern women painters who were largely erased from the discussion of American art and are now making it back in. And there was a lot here to absorb. Lots of sources. Transcripts and tapes of interviews with the artists before their passing. Insights from surviving family and friends. Letters, articles, book Clocking in at 722 pages, I feel like I’ve just done the literary equivalent of running a marathon. Or at least weightlifting! I was really excited for this, excited to learn more about these modern women painters who were largely erased from the discussion of American art and are now making it back in. And there was a lot here to absorb. Lots of sources. Transcripts and tapes of interviews with the artists before their passing. Insights from surviving family and friends. Letters, articles, books. It’s almost overwhelming. The book frequently feels very gossipy - a lot of ink is spilled over lovers and husbands and drunken behaviour—the presentation of “the scene”—and all presented with a sort of romantic bohemian patina that just felt a bit odd to me, lacking as it was in any critical exploration. There is a bit too much of the “genius excuses all” kind of thinking on display with multiple stories of partner and spousal abuse sort of matter-of-factly shrugged off. The work is the work, but Pollock and de Kooning were assholes. I didn’t come for this drama. I came for the art history. I felt a bit let down by the lack of politics (small and large P) here. There wasn’t a lot of analysis in this text. It seems mostly dismissive of the pretty substantial class difference between Mitchell and Frankenthaler and Krasner, de Kooning and Hartigan. And not being an expert on abstract expressionism, was it really as apolitical as all this? All this flouting of convention and tradition didn’t track? All that said, I’m still intrigued by Lee, Elaine, Grace, Joan and Helen. I wish there had been a few more images of their works included. But hopefully I can track some down on my next visit to NYC.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jules

    This is more of a social history of abstract expressionism with 5 female artists as touch points than an art historical or critical work. There's sort of a curious selection of detail from skipping over John Cage and Merce Cunningham's relationship (they were ... friends) and pages about peripheral characters or incidents (Dylan Thomas' death and funeral at the White Horse tavern.) I wonder if the original intent of the book was to share the anecdotes that dot the pages told as if the author kne This is more of a social history of abstract expressionism with 5 female artists as touch points than an art historical or critical work. There's sort of a curious selection of detail from skipping over John Cage and Merce Cunningham's relationship (they were ... friends) and pages about peripheral characters or incidents (Dylan Thomas' death and funeral at the White Horse tavern.) I wonder if the original intent of the book was to share the anecdotes that dot the pages told as if the author knew 'Morty Feldman' and 'Bob Rauschenberg'. There's little to no detail about what inspired the artists or affected their work (Joan Mitchell being raped visiting a psychiatric hospital is almost a foot note.) I had to put the book down for periods as I grew more irritated with the author's ending chapters with cliffhangers (And Bill's behavior was bringing Elaine to make a change...) that never resolves (Elaine would be revisited near to the end of the chapter and no mention of the change or stasis.) I think the book would have been better if it had focused on each author as a section with a longer introductory section placing them in context. And with fewer remarks about their beauty, figures, and breasts (or lack there of when it came to Krasner.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kimmy

    As my friend said, "This book is my new Bible." I cannot recommend Ninth Street Women highly enough. As one who doesn't consider myself a historical literature reader, Mary Gabriel's vivid portraits of the artists on the New York AbEx scene was captivating. I have rarely read a fiction or nonfiction story that was so engrossing. For any artist, New Yorker or historian in your life, this is a must read. As my friend said, "This book is my new Bible." I cannot recommend Ninth Street Women highly enough. As one who doesn't consider myself a historical literature reader, Mary Gabriel's vivid portraits of the artists on the New York AbEx scene was captivating. I have rarely read a fiction or nonfiction story that was so engrossing. For any artist, New Yorker or historian in your life, this is a must read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I did enjoy this, but I found the structure of each woman’s story (versus telling the story chronologically and how each woman fit in) too repetitive and wordy. There was also a lot more about the men (and I realize they played an integral role) than I was expecting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fran Blake

    Loved this book--rich in detail about so many artists and writers whose work I've followed for years & all of it taking place in neighborhoods I've visited or lived in. Fantastic research and so well written, definitely an award winner! Loved this book--rich in detail about so many artists and writers whose work I've followed for years & all of it taking place in neighborhoods I've visited or lived in. Fantastic research and so well written, definitely an award winner!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emmkay

    A number of years ago, I saw an art exhibit focused on New York Abstract Expressionists. I'd heard of Jackson Pollock, sure, but the work of Lee Krasner, his wife, wasn't familiar to me at all and really struck me. Since then, I've been curious to learn more about her and about Abstract Expressionism in general. It took me a while, but I've now made my way to and through Mary Gabriel's exploration of the intertwined lives of five women at the forefront of Abstract Expressionism over a 30 year pe A number of years ago, I saw an art exhibit focused on New York Abstract Expressionists. I'd heard of Jackson Pollock, sure, but the work of Lee Krasner, his wife, wasn't familiar to me at all and really struck me. Since then, I've been curious to learn more about her and about Abstract Expressionism in general. It took me a while, but I've now made my way to and through Mary Gabriel's exploration of the intertwined lives of five women at the forefront of Abstract Expressionism over a 30 year period. It's a huge book - over 700 pages without footnotes- exhaustive and sometimes exhausting in its level of detail, but also a rewarding and immersive read. I came away with a real sense of these immensely talented and challenging women and their milieu. I loved the variety and commitment of Gabriel's subjects. Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning struggled with being defined by their famous spouses (the Artist and Wife exhibit both were featured in at one point didn't help, ugh). Krasner continued to create art throughout her marriage, which in itself is remarkable, because being married to Pollock sounds like a full-time and pretty lousy job. De Kooning carved out her own life as an artist and art critic and had a myriad of affairs, but remained a 'team' with Willem de Kooning, at least until he had a child with another woman. Grace Hartigan from New Jersey married at 19, had a baby, and left it all behind to move to New York and be a painter - Gabriel describes her as without a 'guilt chip,' pretty remarkable for a woman at any time let alone in the 1940s and 1950s. Joan Mitchell was insecure, sharp-tongued and had a messy and I would think sometimes traumatic personal life. Helen Frankenthaler's relationship with an older art critic may have opened some doors for her, but, breathtakingly, he engineered her out of the acknowledged history of the Color Field school of painting despite her pioneering role. Throughout, Gabriel gives the reader a detailed sense of the sometimes claustrophobic interrelationships among the artists, male and female, of the New York School, as well as the writers, musicians, and hang-out spots of their world. The destructive impact of alcohol is striking, as is the way that the growth of market forces in the art world pushed women out. 4.5.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Spiros

    Wow, what an exhilarating ride! using the intertwined lives of five extraordinary artists, Gabriel manages to present a history of The American Century, Ground Zero: Manhattan, from the late 1930's through the early 1960's, all in a tidy 730 or so pages. This is essential reading. And I'm going to have to find a clothbound copy, because over the past month I have managed to pretty much destroy my paperback. Wow, what an exhilarating ride! using the intertwined lives of five extraordinary artists, Gabriel manages to present a history of The American Century, Ground Zero: Manhattan, from the late 1930's through the early 1960's, all in a tidy 730 or so pages. This is essential reading. And I'm going to have to find a clothbound copy, because over the past month I have managed to pretty much destroy my paperback.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Rochford

    This book is my bible.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    Extremely readable, bordering on gossipy, this is a great overview of the New York School and the American art scene in the 40s-60s, focused on five women painters who were central and important to the movement but often left out of the dominant popular art history narrative.

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    O to have been at the Five Spot, with Thelonius Monk at the keyboard (employed again, after the loss of his cabaret card), when Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, and crew came through the door. Mary Gabriel fills in the rich background behind five women of the Abstract Expressionist movement—the poets, playwrights, musicians, composers, and choreographers who mutually influenced them; their husbands and lovers; the critics and gallerists and publishers; and the social upheavals taking place in O to have been at the Five Spot, with Thelonius Monk at the keyboard (employed again, after the loss of his cabaret card), when Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, and crew came through the door. Mary Gabriel fills in the rich background behind five women of the Abstract Expressionist movement—the poets, playwrights, musicians, composers, and choreographers who mutually influenced them; their husbands and lovers; the critics and gallerists and publishers; and the social upheavals taking place in New York and elsewhere in the 1940s and 50s. It was a time when the prevailing wisdom discouraged women from seeking careers: Benjamin Spock's prescription for a mother looking for work outside the home was to "seek psychological counseling." (p. 248) As rackety as some of their lives were, thank goodness that these five—Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, and the rest—didn't fill that 'scrip. You'll want to read this voluminous book with an online resource at your side, for although there are 16 color plates reproducing many of the women's most important paintings, Gabriel discusses many others along the way. There are wonderful anecdotes and quick character sketches: Sensing that a young John Cage was short of funds, Elaine de Kooning offered him $100 for an open-ended commission, to which he responded with the 63-page Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1957-58) (p. 683). Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, churchgoers neither of them, were married in Marble Collegiate. And then went to lunch at Schrafft's. (p. 156) Elaine's mother, Marie Fried, was a genuine eccentric. The vignette on pp. 63-65 cries out for a movie adaptation. The introduction of Franz Kline, "a sad clown," is very sweet. (pp. 191ff.) Gallerist Sidney Janis got his start as a shirt manufacturer, designing a casual model with two breast pockets. (p. 114) To be sure, Gabriel paints some of the players in this massive drama as villains: Ruth Kligman, who was with Pollock on his final drive, and inscrutable Clement Greenberg do not fare well in this narrative. Perhaps the nut of the book is this passage from p. 461. Who was the first to drip? The first to stain? Neither Jackson Pollock nor Helen Frankenthaler. But these discoveries do not in any way rob Jackson or Helen of their status as artistic innovators. Both pushed the boundaries beyond anything that had been done before. What made their work so unique and brilliant was that intangible element—self. Great painting, great art in general, is not about materials used or methods mastered or event talent possessed. It is a combination of all these factors, and an individual driven by a force that seems outside them, toward expression of an idea they often do not understand.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Over 700 pages of text, plus the forward and intro, and then the acknowledgements, all worth reading! This book was a marathon read and a real escape into the world of the artists who developed the so called "New York School" from the 1930s right up into the sixties and beyond. The author did an amazing research job which includes a healthy dose of primary sources, allowing us to hear the real words of the artists and their friends and families. You gain incite into the bold affairs and the nuan Over 700 pages of text, plus the forward and intro, and then the acknowledgements, all worth reading! This book was a marathon read and a real escape into the world of the artists who developed the so called "New York School" from the 1930s right up into the sixties and beyond. The author did an amazing research job which includes a healthy dose of primary sources, allowing us to hear the real words of the artists and their friends and families. You gain incite into the bold affairs and the nuanced that propelled the group of women listed in the subtitle plus many, many, others to be driven to do what they did, to find each other, and to coalesce into a close knit group. Critics, composers, and writers slip in and out of the scene. You don't have to like mid century contemporary art to appreciate the intense emotions and drive that propelled this era. The depression, WWI and the post war era, and the changing social ideology beyond are all covered in this book and form the backdrop to the development of American as opposed to European culture during this period. The lives of many of the cultural icons of the period were sad and violent, some criminal. It isn't all paint on canvas or a poem on a page. This is the back story. One interesting tidbit that I enjoyed: the noted poet Frank O'Hara who figured large on the NY scene, and the artist Edward Gorey whose animated creepy line drawings open Masterpiece Mystery were early college roommates. The level of detail in this book is admirable. The five well known female Expressionists are part of this narrative but so are many others. In this context, we are able to pull out the special struggles that female artists went through to gain recognition and equal stature with their male counterparts, some of whom were husbands or close friends. Several multi-page groups of photos of people and of art help to place this true story in time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    If you are at all interested in art or strong women you must read this book. It sends you on a wild adventure through two world wars, the great depression, a time when purchasing art was a tax deduction, and many social changes, while all the while these women are risking everything to be artists, not “women artists”. Many times during the book some of them were truly starving and giving away art for food. They changed the world for themselves, the men they were with, and for the art world forev If you are at all interested in art or strong women you must read this book. It sends you on a wild adventure through two world wars, the great depression, a time when purchasing art was a tax deduction, and many social changes, while all the while these women are risking everything to be artists, not “women artists”. Many times during the book some of them were truly starving and giving away art for food. They changed the world for themselves, the men they were with, and for the art world forever. This book came at the absolute right time for me as I just started painting a year ago and only started painting abstraction five months ago. Also, the Joan Mitchell show starts in September at the SFMOMA. The idea of painting my poetry, as Joan did with Frank O’Hara’s poetry is my next adventure. Something I might never have thought of had I not read this book. The writing is tight, well researched and extremely well organized so you can read this big book in time slices and savor every page. Don’t be discourage by the page count. Especially because 100+ are research notes. I’ll definitely read it again but for now my copy is covered in post-it’s for great quotes and painting ideas. I miss all these people already. Very inspiring!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    I feel I have climbed a mountain! This is a massive book which covers way more than the title implies. A magnus opus. And the writing is so engaging it doesn't get boring. But could have used editing- could easily have been at least 100 pages shorter. Several storied get repeated- one having to do with WW2 which had nothing to do with the book. The bigger world stuff could have been massively cut down. As could the quotes- the ones at the beginning of the chapters and the sometimes quite long ones I feel I have climbed a mountain! This is a massive book which covers way more than the title implies. A magnus opus. And the writing is so engaging it doesn't get boring. But could have used editing- could easily have been at least 100 pages shorter. Several storied get repeated- one having to do with WW2 which had nothing to do with the book. The bigger world stuff could have been massively cut down. As could the quotes- the ones at the beginning of the chapters and the sometimes quite long ones which added nothing to the story. The story of a 6th artist who gets a lengthy introduction like the other 6 and then is barely mentioned again- what the heck. And a bunch of other things which did not need to be included and the treatment of the men's stories at times made it as much about them as the women.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joann

    This is the best book I have read in a long time and if I could give it ten stars I would. Gabriel takes the reader deep into eleven years of the New York art world, specifically, 1948-1959, introducing many of the artists trying to find their voice, express it and be heard. This was difficult for all artists at that time, but especially for the five women featured in this book. The New York artists were turning the art world on its head and the center of where art “was at” had moved from Paris This is the best book I have read in a long time and if I could give it ten stars I would. Gabriel takes the reader deep into eleven years of the New York art world, specifically, 1948-1959, introducing many of the artists trying to find their voice, express it and be heard. This was difficult for all artists at that time, but especially for the five women featured in this book. The New York artists were turning the art world on its head and the center of where art “was at” had moved from Paris to New York City. No matter the cost, these artists were determined to succeed. For many the costs were quite high. The depth of Gabriel’s research is remarkable, her writing is highly accessible, and the illustrations are excellent. I knew of a lot of the artists covered but now know so much more and have a list of further reading. This book was just plain delicious.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I'm ambivalent about Ninth Street Women - I really appreciated learning about the cultural climate of postwar USA and how it influenced the painters Gabriel writes about, but her extensive detailing of their lives (700+ pages), still had me looking online for images that demonstrated why these artists were worth reading about. The book is primarily text with very few images which I found surprising and disappointing. Ninth Street Women is a history of the times that uses the biographies and inte I'm ambivalent about Ninth Street Women - I really appreciated learning about the cultural climate of postwar USA and how it influenced the painters Gabriel writes about, but her extensive detailing of their lives (700+ pages), still had me looking online for images that demonstrated why these artists were worth reading about. The book is primarily text with very few images which I found surprising and disappointing. Ninth Street Women is a history of the times that uses the biographies and interrelationships of Krasner, de Kooning, Hartigan, Mitchell, and Frankenthaler as its organizing principle. I chose to teach a course on these artists knowing that it was a way for me to actually read the book - and I'm glad I did, but, for the class, my focus was on the art itself and for that, I had to go to the internet and search.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    This book deserves a 5 star rating but I am only giving it 3 stars because pages 432 to page 465 are missing in this book. It is part of one chapter and most of another. I'm surprised that no one has commented on this. I have called the publishers but not heard back from them. Just when Frank O'Hara is coming on the scene... This book deserves a 5 star rating but I am only giving it 3 stars because pages 432 to page 465 are missing in this book. It is part of one chapter and most of another. I'm surprised that no one has commented on this. I have called the publishers but not heard back from them. Just when Frank O'Hara is coming on the scene...

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