Berkshire Tour: Formalism Relaxes, Handcraft Goes Digital

This exhibition’s centerpiece, and one of Frankenthaler’s largest paintings, “Off White Square” (1973) is an abstraction in CinemaScope. Anchored by the titular white square, chalky white and slightly sticky, are floods of pink, purple, khaki and blue. As she often did, Frankenthaler placed a lighter shade, here yellow, at the bottom, which levitates the whole. Borders are almost always emphasized in her work, through strong colors at the edges of canvases and at the boundaries of poured fields.

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“Madame Butterfly,” woodcut, 2000.

Credit
Helen Frankenthaler Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

By the later 1970s, Frankenthaler was departing from her signature style to capitalize on the tactile heft achievable with acrylic, as in “Jockey,” with its thick dabs of bright green. Least known are such late paintings as “Red Shift,” in which clashing crimsons and deep pinks create a toxic glow along the horizon of an irradiated landscape, and “Barometer,” a rare grisaille that suggests a frozen wasteland of churning seas and joyless snow. By way of a coda, the exhibition ends in 1992 with “The Birth of the Blues,” a vibrant chord of rich blues and greens swept in horizontal lines, like notation for a bar of music.

With “No Rules,” the show surveying Frankenthaler’s woodcuts, the curator Jay Clarke demonstrates how well a refractory medium can suit an artist who favors intuition and chance. Although she made a greater number of lithographs and (particularly) monotypes, both more conducive to spontaneity, the woodcuts, which span the years 1973 to 2009, offer a fascinating overview of her thinking and process.

From the start, Frankenthaler was looking toward 19th-century Japanese masters, as is evident in the delicate tracery of white lines through areas of meaty red and grassy green in “Savage Breeze.” Yet to achieve the smoky, fire-lit atmosphere of “Cameo,” Frankenthaler worked the woodblock with such unorthodox implements as sandpaper, a cheese grater and dental tools.

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Helen Frankenthaler’s “Freefall,” 1993, a 12-color woodcut.

Credit
Helen Frankenthaler Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

From the ’90s comes the sumptuous “Freefall,” in silky blues and greens on a hand-dyed…

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