A year after its controversial sale of a big and beloved Helen Frankenthaler painting, Palm Springs Art Museum has opened an exhibition examining the artist’s final crescendo.
Frankenthaler, who died in 2011, was part of the second generation of abstract expressionist painters and known for her bold experimentation — the rare woman who not only ran with the “big boys” of the midcentury movement but also charted her own path. She famously introduced a soak-stain technique, pouring diluted oil paint onto untreated canvases and using brushes, sponges, and other tools to achieve a watercolor effect. She was influential in AbEx’s shift toward “color field” painting, and turned to acrylics for brighter, thicker gestural brushstrokes that sometimes referenced figures and landscapes. Later, as we see in the museum’s presentation of Helen Frankenthaler: Late Works, 1990-2003, the artist began working on large sheets of paper that she spread onto her studio floor, soaking them with her signature wash and adding spontaneous marks in charcoal, crayon, pastel, pen, and ink.