Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

Message from Executive Director - Foundation


Helen Frankenthaler, Ocean Drive West #1, 1974, acrylic on canvas, 94 x 144 inches (238.8 x 365.8 cm) © 2019 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.


March 26, 2019


Looking back at our fifth year of active operations and programming, 2018 was a year of “firsts” for the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation in many of our exhibitions, programs, collaborations, and granting initiatives. I am delighted to share highlights from among those here, along with some exciting projects with which the Foundation is currently engaged.


We were pleased to participate in several major museum exhibitions nationally and internationally, with loans to The Water Lilies: Abstract Art and the First Monet,  at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris; the Art Institute of Chicago’s Helen Frankenthaler Prints: The Romance of a New Medium; and Epic Abstraction, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We also worked closely with the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) to create the first exhibition and publication to examine the significance of a place for Frankenthaler, Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown. Curated by Lise Motherwell—a stepdaughter of Frankenthaler, President of the Board of PAAM, and Vice President of the HFF Board—and myself, the exhibition focused on work the artist made in the seaside artist colony during a decade of productive summers during the 1960s. On view in Provincetown last summer, an expanded version will be presented by the Parrish Art Museum, in Water Mill, New York, from August 4 through October 27, 2019.


Building on our ongoing support of the visual-arts program and Museum Fellows Term at Bennington College, Frankenthaler’s alma mater, the Foundation launched two ambitious new multi-year grants initiatives last year. Centering on university- and graduate-level education for artists and art historians, these include Frankenthaler Scholarships in painting and art history, for students in MFA programs; and the Frankenthaler Prints Initiative, which encompasses gifts of significant groups of the artist’s work in prints to museums affiliated with universities and art schools, along with grants to support exhibitions or related programs. Recipients thus far have been four MFA programs and ten museums, geographically dispersed throughout the United States. See our grants page for a listing of the first year’s awardees.


We continued to support research and publication projects that draw upon materials in the Foundation’s archives to expand understanding of Frankenthaler’s life and work, its context and legacy. Among notable 2018 events was the publication of author Mary Gabriel’s landmark book, Ninth Street Women: Five Painters and the Movement that Changed Modern Art, for which the Whitney Museum of American art organized a public program in collaboration with the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. In addition, the publication that accompanied the aforementioned exhibition, Abstract Climates: Helen Frankenthaler in Provincetown, made extensive use of research materials in our archives to contribute significant new scholarship to its subject.


Highlights of the Foundation’s public-programs initiative, held at its New York City office and study center, included a series of panel discussions presented collaboratively with Yaddo, one of the nation’s oldest artist communities, exploring topics ranging from aging, activism, and commerce in relation to creative practices. We also invited composer Kenneth Fuchs to speak at the Foundation about his work and its relationship to and inspiration from Frankenthaler’s paintings. Click here to listen. We were delighted to learn that Fuchs’s work, including the recording Spiritualist (Concerto for Piano and Orchestra after Three Works by Helen Frankenthaler)—realized in part with support from the Foundation—recently received a Grammy award in the classical music category.


In another “first,” in the late fall of 2018 the Foundation initiated plans for an exhibition of Frankenthaler’s work to be held at the Museo di Palazzo Grimani in Venice, timed with the 58th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. Organized by the Foundation and Venetian Heritage, in association with Gagosian, it will be on view from May 7 through November 17, 2019, representing the first exhibition of the artist’s work in Venice since its appearance in 1966 at the American Pavilion of the 33rd Venice Biennale. Curated by John Elderfield, Chief Curator Emeritus of The Museum of Modern Art; Consulting Curator at the Princeton University Art Museum; and a Senior Curator at Gagosian, PITTURA/PANORAMA: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings 1952-1992 will include fourteen major paintings from the Foundation’s collection, covering a forty-year span of the artist’s career.


This spring, Frankenthaler’s work is also being shown for the first time in Rome, in the exhibition Helen Frankenthaler: Sea Change, A Decade of Paintings 1974-1983, at Gagosian there through July 19. Also this spring, the first exhibition of the artist’s woodcuts to be presented in Scandinavia is taking place at KODE Museum and Composer’s House in Bergen, Norway. 


As recognition of Frankenthaler’s achievement and significance continues to grow in Europe, her work is enjoying increasingly visibility in the American context. We look forward to the presence of key paintings by the artist in upcoming collection shows at New York museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In addition, Princeton University Art Museum will present the first of the Frankenthaler Prints Initiative exhibitions of gifts from the Foundation in the context of its forthcoming exhibition, Helen Frankenthaler Prints: Seven Types of Ambiguity, from June 29–September 15, 2019.


As 2019 unfolds, we will be sharing news of many other noteworthy occurrences. We invite you to re-visit our website often; to follow us on social media @HelenFrankenthalerFoundation on Instagram and Facebook, and @HFrankenthaler on Twitter; and to sign up for our occasional newsletter here.


Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director