Magazine article Art Monthly

Joan Mitchell Leaving America: Hauser & Wirth London May 25 to July 21

Magazine article Art Monthly

Joan Mitchell Leaving America: Hauser & Wirth London May 25 to July 21

Article excerpt

Joan Mitchell: Leaving America Hauser & Wirth London May 25 to July 21

Given that Joan Mitchell achieved solo shows every single year from 1976 to 1998, framed by two major exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in 1974 and 2002, it is shocking that this is the first exhibition of her work in Britain. Mitchell, who died in 1992, was part of what was known as the second generation of abstract expressionists, not because they came after the first, but largely because they were women and judged inferior. A gallerist whom she approached once told Mitchell, 'If you were French, male and dead, I'd show you.' At the same time, despite exploring the same territory as painters like Grace Hartigan, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, solidarity did not seem to exist among them. When asked in 1985 what was it like to be a woman in the macho 50s, Mitchell replied, 'Do you mean, am I a feminist? I am. But I really like painting, whoever does it. The men helped me more than the women. It's still a small world for women and they're cut-throat with each other.' Unlike Krasner and de Kooning, Mitchell did not benefit from a highly successful husband, while moving to France to pursue a love affair in 1959 also undoubtedly slowed down wider recognition of her work.

This show straddles the transition between continents and abstract traditions well. Thankfully Hauser & Wirth have introduced white walls and a false ceiling to disguise the emphatic wood-panelling and elaborate stucco, which allows these 12 dynamic paintings the room to breathe. The works from 1960-62 comprise one thematic and formal stage. Mostly untitled, these paintings achieve a fertile restlessness, with their rich palette of red, magenta, green and coral scattering out from a central density in flicks and drips towards the edges of the canvas. Paint is flattened and scraped with a knife, daubed with fingers, smeared and shaken but there is a sense that powerful emotions are nonetheless being structured and channelled. Some canvases have the pastoral airiness and delicacy of Cy Twombly's later work. The key painting is the largest in the group, Untitled, 1960, in which a dark blue, bold mass is enlivened with bursts of red, green and white impasto--a painting where centre and periphery are aligned. A sense of joyfulness, of being aware of existence itself quivers from the canvas. …

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