Helen Frankenthaler Foundation

Message from Executive Director - Foundation


Photography courtesy of the Denver Art Museum. Artwork (Left to Right):

Jacob's Ladder, 1957, Oil on canvas, 113 3/8 x 69 7/8 inches, Collection: The Museum of Modern Art, N.Y.

Western Dream, 1957, Oil on canvas, 70 x 86 inches, Collection: Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, N.Y.

December 13, 2016


The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, established by artist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) in the 1980s, became a fully functioning entity in 2013, when the assets from her estate passed to the Foundation. Since that time, it has been my privilege to work with its energetic, supportive Board of Trustees, chosen by the artist herself. The Foundation now has a staff numbering six, and we have accelerated our activities centered on the care and public accessibility of Frankenthaler’s artwork, and our stewardship of her legacy through educational and philanthropic programs.


Our West 26th Street office and study center is now in full operation. In 2016, we were delighted to welcome 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. Many of these have included a focus on materials drawn from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Archives, which maintains a collection of original papers and materials pertaining to the artist's life and work.


The Archives, established in 2015 and central to our work, has grown in importance. The many materials we inherited from the artist’s estate continue to be processed, and new material has been added. Already, certain of these holdings have been used to aid the production of exhibitions and publications. In addition, our Oral History project has been proceeding, with eleven new, extended interviews completed, and more scheduled.


Another priority for the Foundation continues to be making works from our collection available for loan as widely as possible. In 2016 we supported a range of exhibitions in which Frankenthaler’s artwork and legacy had important roles. Prominent among these were the critically acclaimed exhibition, Women of Abstract Expressionism, developed by the Denver Art Museum, which presented the contributions of twelve women artists, some little known, who played an integral role in the Abstract Expressionist movement; and Abstract Expressionism, at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, the first major exhibition of the movement to be held in the UK in nearly six decades.


In addition, with the Foundation’s encouragement and support, Gagosian Gallery presented at its Beverly Hills location Line into Color, Color into Line: Helen Frankenthaler, an exhibition comprising eighteen paintings created by the artist between 1962 and 1987. The exhibition catalogue included essays by novelist Francine Prose and Yale art historian Carol Armstrong, offering new readings of the artist’s work.


I invite you to visit the Exhibitions page of our website to learn more about these presentations and others, and to click on the link here to see a video of rare archival footage of Frankenthaler talking about her work, produced by Gagosian, with assistance from the Foundation, to accompany the Beverly Hills show.

As a young foundation, our philanthropic strategy has continued to evolve, focusing on providing support to cultural and educational institutions important to Frankenthaler’s life, work, and interests, including her love of discussion and debate. Notable in 2016 have been a major grant to the American Academy in Rome, to underwrite its 2016-17 international lecture series, Conversations/Conversazioni; a grant to Colorado Public Television to support the development of the CPT12 PBS documentary, “Women of Abstract Expressionism,” and support for a forthcoming new visual arts facility at The Dalton School, the progressive K-12 school that Frankenthaler had attended. Meanwhile, our ongoing relationship with Bennington College, Frankenthaler’s alma mater, continues to develop as a programmatic partnership.


As we look towards 2017, the Trustees and staff of the Foundation are exploring new ways to extend the artist’s legacy; expand our reach to arts organizations that link directly to Helen Frankenthaler’s life, work, and interests; and support scholarship that expands understanding and appreciation of her art, and of her commitment to the serious work of studio practice.


We hope that you will explore our website to learn about the artist herself and the programs referred to above and many others.

Elizabeth Smith, Executive Director


Updated July 2017