Sunday, May 9, 2010

Joan Mitchell in New Orleans

Joan Mitchell, whose paintings, prints and pastels hang at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Contemporary Arts Center, and Newcomb Gallery, respectively, was an American bohemian of the old school. A trail blazing abstract expressionist, she divided her time between Manhattan and Paris before settling there for good in 1955. Her expatriate existence may have caused her to become less prominent back home than her abstract painter peers such as Helen Frankenthaler or Lee Krasner even as her global reputation steadily grew. Since her death in 1992, the Joan Mitchell Foundation has pursued her goal of extending a helping hand to artists, and has been hugely helpful to the New Orleans art community as it struggled to recover from the ravages of hurricane Katrina.

   Although influenced by Willem de Kooning’s gestural flourishes and Franz Kline’s stark formalism, Mitchell’s vision was more intimately linked to nature. By the latter 1950s, her color palette was redolent with the hues of the French countryside, reflecting an evolution away from the starkness of the New York School. Her paintings at NOMA are instructive in this regard. UNTITLED, 1956, right, is gloriously edgy with swampy green, gold and fuchsia patches shot through with black slashes that cause the canvas to almost ooze the existential tensions of the time. UNTITLED, 1961, top, is more buoyantly delicate if no less abstract, with colors that hark to Matisse or even Monet, while her works from the late 1960s through the 1980s continue her rigorous consistency. Her signature tautness of line resonates through her large lithographs at the CAC, while some of the later pastels at the Newcomb Gallery, for instance UNTITLED 1989 (detail), below, exemplify her relentless evolution as a vibrant colorist. Taken together, the three exhibitions provide rare insight into one of the 20th century’s most accomplished, if enigmatic, female modernists, an artist who linked the cerebral gravitas of abstract expressionism with the sensuality of the School of Paris.  ~Bookhardt
  
JOAN MITCHELL IN NEW ORLEANS: Paintings and Works on Paper--Through June
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org
Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328; www.tulane.edu/~newcomb/currentex.html
Contemporary Arts Center, 528-3805; www.cacno.org