Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

Message from Executive Director - Foundation


Helen Frankenthaler, First Creatures, 1959, oil, enamel, charcoal, and pencil on sized, primed linen 64 3/4 × 111 inches (164.5 × 281.9 cm) © 2017 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Rob McKeever

December 14, 2017

As we mark the four-year anniversary of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, I am pleased to share some highlights from among 2017 exhibitions and public and education programs, as well as the developing work of the Foundation’s archives and philanthropy. 



2017 was a particularly active year for solo and group exhibitions, in the U.S. and abroad, in which Frankenthaler’s artwork and legacy were either central or had important roles. Especially notable were several critically acclaimed solo exhibitions that took place in the summer and fall:


Organized by The Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, MA, As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings, curated by art historian Alexandra Schwartz and accompanied by a catalogue, focused on nature as a longstanding inspiration over five decades of work. No Rules: Helen Frankenthaler Woodcuts, curated by the Clark’s Jay Clarke, presented work executed over four decades and examined Frankenthaler’s inventive and groundbreaking approach to the woodcut medium in printmaking.


In addition, Gagosian Gallery presented Helen Frankenthaler: After Abstract Expressionism, 1959–1962, at its Paris gallery. Curated by John Elderfield, who contributed an important new essay to the catalogue, the exhibition included paintings and works on paper, a number of which had not been exhibited since the early 1960s. It was the first major exhibition of Helen Frankenthaler’s work in Paris in more than fifty years.



The Foundation again this year welcomed a wide variety of scholars and researchers, museum curators and directors, artists, students, and foundation colleagues to programs ranging from lectures, panel discussions, and seminars to more informal gatherings. Highlights included a spring series titled Material Concerns and Current Practices, conceived and introduced by art historian Alex Bacon, which comprised three roundtable conversations with artists. Also in spring 2017, the Foundation hosted and worked closely with Frankenthaler Fellows—students in Bennington College’s Museum Fellows Term—for classes and programs at our facility during their residencies at New York City museums.


Fall programs, organized and moderated by Douglas Dreishpoon, Director of the Helen Frankenthaler Catalogue Raisonné, included an October conversation that brought together artists who were in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 1986, when Helen Frankenthaler was a visiting artist there; and Helen Frankenthaler: Saluting France, a panel discussion on the subject of Frankenthaler’s work and its connection to French art and culture. The latter was presented in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy/Albertine Books, where it took place in November.



The Archives, established in 2015 and central to our work, has grown in importance as we continue to process the many original papers and materials we inherited from the artist’s estate. This year we digitized 130 interviews, lectures, and other audiovisual items dating from the mid-1960s to 2013. We are developing our research guide to assist staff and researchers in their work, and already certain of our holdings have been used to aid the production of exhibitions, publications, and programs.


In addition, we completed six new interviews for our Oral History project, with more scheduled for 2018. We look forward to making this valuable collection available to researchers once the project concludes.



Especially noteworthy among 2017 philanthropic efforts was a major grant to Skowhegan, one of the nation’s leading residencies for emerging visual artists. In keeping with Frankenthaler’s commitment to the serious work of studio practice, the grant will provide for a new studio building to be constructed on Skowhegan’s rural campus in central Maine. This will be named in her honor and will provide work spaces for three visual artists.


It has been deeply rewarding for all of us at the Foundation to work in partnership with other colleagues to create exhibitions, programs, and additional projects that have brought new voices to the discussion of Frankenthaler’s work, and that have helped us reach not only existing audiences, but beyond.


In closing, I would like to add special thanks to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees for its ongoing support for all of our efforts and for the collective wisdom it brings to our discussions; and to acknowledge our talented and hardworking staff, which is small in size but often seems to be doing the work of many more.


Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director