Archive Page 2

Typical behaviour in ‘Cockfights’

This week we discussed the social and political implications of gender (gender as power) in relation to particular artists and artworks.

In Cockfights and Other Parades*, gender is explored through the works (and photographs) of the abstract expressionists, especially Pollock and Krasner; and Zoffany’s painting Colonel Mordant’s Cock Match (1784). Many aspects of gender are explored- class, for example, is of a particular accord with Zoffany’s work, as one might expect from a work produced in the much more outwardly hierarchical society of the 18th century.

One particular point caught my attention in this article, relates to the gestural brush-marks used by the abstract expressionist painters. We (the readers) are asked “Is the gesture male?” What the author hints at is the structure of artworks as being perceived ’male’ or ‘female’ (thus the need for the phrase ’women artists’, as though their concerns are fundamentally different due to their sex).

Griselda Pollock goes on to involve psychoanalytic ideas of hysteria and gender transgression, and applies it to the method that the artist Jackson Pollock used. If we can see Pollock’s gestural action painting as a kind of hysterical act, then “creativity might be seen to stem from identifications that transcend that actual gendered embodiment of the artist”. This would then indicate that it is possible to se art not coming from a socially fixed gendered viewpoint but as unfixed creative possibilities. Equally, the gesture, action, making or construction are all words that are associated with men- men are dynamic, they are go-getters; women are reduced to “fashionable accessories”, ornaments. Their function is seen as predominantly decorative, ad much as their male counterpart’s role lies in action. Therefore, it is possible to see Pollock’s method as fundamentally male.

This section particularly interested me as I have always felt it is problematic to view women and men as being fundamentally different; yet I find it hard not to make distinctions between what is essentially ‘male’ and ‘female’. Biologically there are obvious differences, but things such as the progression in transgender surgeries means that that boundary is more blurred than it originally used to be. Sexually, traditional roles of the masculine and feminine are subverted by homosexuality and asexuality. It seems as though these categories are increasingly being used out of habit, for the sake of tradition, or even purely for the sake of defining and grouping peoples, rather than because they serve a legitimately helpful role within society. For those who do not fit wholly within their given gender category (i.e.-most of us, if we are honest) there are many social and psychological reactions which are very rarely positive.


* Cockfights and Other Parades: Gesture, Difference, and the Staging of meaning in three paintings by Zoffany, Pollock,and Krasner Griselda Pollock (Oxford Art Journal, 2003, 26:2, p.141-166)


Artist’s portraits of the 1950-70s

For this study, I’ve decided to make simple lists to summarise the ideas that are brought up in relation to these photographs of artists.  Obviously,I’m taking a slightly feminist view, so my thoughts often came back to gender roles,especially as ‘gender’ has been the over-arching theme of this week’s readings (notes/thoughts on those to follow).


Click on the artist’s name to visit their site or their biography. All portraits are the work of Hans Namuth (1915-1990)


Ad Reinhardt with his family (1958 )

ad reinhardt– authority


-traditional roles (father, husband, bread-winner)


tingurly and saint phalie

Jean Tinguely and Nicky de Saint-Phalle

New York City, 1962

-Gaze(who/what is the focus on? who are we supposed to be looking at?)

-Female form (of sculpture)

-Gender roles (He’ll smoke and work, she’ll sit there, bored but pretty)


Elaine de Kooning and Willem de Kooning

East Hampton, New York      1953

-Again, ideas of focus and importance, though here it made more obvious that Willem de Kooning is the focus of the photograph due to his prominence in the foreground.

-However, it is the woman this time caught smoking, which seems somewhat unusual, though it may be considered elegant in certain cases,and rendered masculine in others (“women on fire eating meat!”, as certain male friends of mine insist on saying rather rowdily every so often)


Helen Frankenthaler

West Islip, New York    1964

-here the scene shows Frankenthaler being taught by a man (presumably another artist)

-could be seen to hint at women’s lack of skill, but equally it is just a picture of her learning something new, or of a piece she worked on with another (it’s all too easy for us to read into things- we cannot tell whether the scene is staged or not, for example).

barnettnewmanBarnett Newman

-Again,smoking (perhaps I’m a little more aware of this as someone living in the age of the ban (how would they cope?)), but this stereotype plays further- alone, male- were the decor different, it could almost be a bar.

-There is a sense of self assurance as the artists sits, back to the canvases, almost as if he were not phased by them (though he may yet be unaware of how important these pieces would become/were made to become (more on that in week 2))


In general I feel these photos show a tendancy for women to be quite literally pictured as being a different kind of/of a lower class of artist in comparison to their male contemporaries. We see this through the subtle positioning of women in the image compared to the men (often behind, in the background), and the overall feelof the image- for example,whilst Newman seems clever, independent and confident due to his aloof position away from the camera- women in images are often not portrayed so powerfully.

Grace Hartigan (1922-2008 )

Hartigan began her career as a draftsperson, but began to paint when she moved to New York in 1946 and became exposed to the friendship and society of the Abstract Expressionists. Her professional break came in 1950 at a show at the Samuel Kootz Gallery organised by Clement Greenberg (an art critic and big advocate of the Abstract Expressionist movement) and Meyer Schapiro. Up until 1951, however,she signed her canvases “George Hartigan”.

‘Hartigan’s fame reached its peak in the late 1950’s. During this time, Hartigan was featured in a Life photographic essay “Women Artists in Ascendance” and her work included in several prestigious exhibitions such as Twelve Americans and the Sao Paolo Bienal.’*

However, Hartigan’s career spanned beyond the so-called ‘New York school’, exhibiting in many places across the world, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and in 1967 she became the Director of the Hoffberger Graduate School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. ‘[F]rom 1965-2007 she mentored, criticized and generally helped hundreds of painters find their own paths’#

hartigan et al(Hartigan second from left, pictured with (r-l)Walter Silver, Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers)**

Sources- #,,, *, **

Louise Nevelson (1900-1988 )

(Russian born, emigrated 1905 to Rockland, Maine)


Portrait of Nevelson by Ugo Mulasc (1965)

It is encouraging to see pictures like this portrait of Nevelson producing works, in the action of creation, as from a certain perspective that would be viewed as a typically masculine trait.

Between 1929/30 Nevelson studied at the American Art Students League. In 1931 she visited Europe and was inspired by African art and Boccioni, Brancusi and Picasso. A year later she studied under Hans Hofmann, and then in 1933 had her first solo exhibition in New York. Her paintings and sculptures showed in galleries all over the world, including in the American pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1962.

Nevelson escaped small town life through a marriage that she soon found constraining, spliting from her husband in 1931. It seems she was only too aware on the restraints placed on her as a creator, not just because of her sex, but because of her class too- “I soon recognized that within their circle you could know Beethoven, but God forbid if you were Beethoven. You were not allowed to be a creator, you were just supposed to be an audience. They thought they were terribly refined.”*

She is also the first of our featured artists to be well known for sculpture, not just 2-D work. Poetically described ‘Her sculptures included wood assemblages typically painted in either jet black or, later, in white and gold as well, ranged in size from the small and personal to the large and monumental, inviting viewers to observe a world into which they could not go but in which they often feared they had already been placed.’* Like many women artists, Nevelson had a long career and achieved, if not fame, success. In 2000, the United States Post Office issued five limited edition postal stamps in recognition of Nevelson’s contribution to art.


Sources- *, Art of the 20th Century (Taschen, 2000, p.778), (“an organisation to educate the public on the life and work of the American artist Louise Nevelson”),

Lee Krasner (1908-1984)

lee krasner 1949Lee Krasner with Stop and Go, c. 1949. Photographer unknown.
The Pollock- Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Krasner first studied at Washington Irving High School (the only public institution to offer art training to women at the time in NYC), she then trained at the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union and, in her early 20s, at the National Academy of Design. Like many of the Abstract Expressionists, Krasner studied under Hans Hofmann in the Federal Art Project. It was here that she was exposed to the works of the Cubists. Her work uses geometric elements combined with more muted colours than some of her contemporaries, gestural brushstrokes and floral motifs.

Krasner met Pollock in 1942, and in 1945 they were married. Like other female artists at this time, Krasner was excluded from the canon in favour of her male contemporaries, and her connection to Pollock only added to this:

‘For Krasner, the oeuvre of her husband… long stood in the way of a serious evaluation of her own work’*

This can be witnessed, for example, as she sits at sidelines in the famous film of Pollock (1951), with a “token (in)visibility”**, an anti-thesis of the image of the artist (Pollock) as “modern, as American, as masculine”** But Krasner produced and carried onto to produce great works of art, long after her husband’s death.

Like many artists producing work at that time who are women, Krasner’s work only really began to see recognition even remotely on the scale of Pollock and Rothko after her death, in exhibitions such as the major American retrospective (curated by Robert Hobbs) in 1999-2000.

Sources- Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Centuries ed. Uta Grosenick (Taschen, 2003, p.108), Griselda Pollock Cockfights and other Parades, Oxford Art Journal 2003 26:2 14,,

Helen Frankenthaler (1928- )

From 1945 to 1950 studied at Bennington College, Vermont, at the Art Students League and with Hans Hoffman in New York (his biography in the same book* fails to mention this)
After this period she went on to develop her own style of “staining” painting- ‘Frankenthaler became the first American painter after Jackson Pollock to see the implications of the color staining of raw canvas to create an integration of color and ground in which foreground and background cease to exist’** This was an influence on later artists such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Her painting “Mountains and the Sea” (1952) is considered to be one of the most important pieces of colour field painting.

Portrait from series by Ernest Haas 

Frankenthaler married Robert Motherwell (fact not mentioned in his biography on the same text*, and subsequently in my own piece on Motherwell (week 1c)) in 1958. This coupled with the Pollock/Krasner relationship surely prompts us to wonder about the MUTUAL source of inspiration each artist found inone another, and how it is that the women will always be more in danger to playing the minor role in such circumstances. In the same year she taught at several universities, including Princeton and Yale.

She has had a long career, well over 50 years, yet still remains relatively unknown compared to her male expressionist contemporaries. As well as painting Frankenthaler has produced work in other mediums, most notably print making.

Sources- *Art of the 20th Century (Part 1: Painting, Taschen, 2000, p.723), **,, (image)

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)

‘Unlike the brooding and macho Abstract Expressionism characteristic of Rothko or Kline, Mitchell’s paintings draw much of their inspiration from nature, setting her apart from her American contemporaries’*

Mitchell studied art in Massachusetts for two years before transferring in 1944 back to her hometown of Chicago. She received her B.F.A. in 1947, leading to a scholarship supporting a tour of Europe. In 1950 she received her M.F.A.

As well as finding inspiration from artists like Kline, Mitchell also drew ideas from the works of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Kandinsky. It was these European influences which first led Mitchell away from the stricter, representational academically taught art, to a freer and more abstract style. Despite her connections within the New York scene, Mitchell stayed somewhat apart, partially due to her more European influences, and latterly when she began to divide her time between Paris and New York in the mid 1950s. Interest in Mitchell’s work, and of her role in the Abstract Expressionist movement was reignited/created in 2002, due to a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. (Whilst her male contemporaries have works in the permanent collection at MoMA as part of a display of  “pivotal” moments in the creation of modern art)


Mitchell is a wonderful example of an artist who took inspiration from others, but also from herself, she did not blindly follow her male contemporaries (as some art historians make artists who are women seem to). She held on to her ideas inspired by the rawness and beauty of the natural landscape.

*The 20th Century Artbook (Phaidon, 199, p.309),,,