Feb 14, 2024
The Ninth Street Art Exhibition 1951
KATONAH, New York — On May 21, 1951, future famed art dealer Leo Castelli launched a ground breaking exhibition. The Ninth Street Show brought to light the post-war avant-garde New York School.
Of the 72 artists included, eleven were women. Five – Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Lee Krasner — would achieve international acclaim.
The Ninth Street Show was the breakout achievement of a number of emerging artists who had become part of New York’s downtown art community. They included Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg.
The exhibition, held in a vacant storefront on 60 East Ninth Street, was curated by Leo Castelli. It marked his first curatorial effort and became a seminal event of Abstract Expressionism.
While many of the artists featured in the Ninth Street Show were familiar with each other, they had never exhibited together. This group would later become known as the New York School.
Franz Kline is a prominent figure in the postwar New York School of painting. Initially working in a realist style, he later abandoned figuration and developed his signature gestural abstract technique.
Kline used inexpensive commercial paints and house painter’s brushes to create a network of rough, yet controlled lines in his work. His paintings often featured large areas of white, contrasting with thick black strokes that evoked powerful vectors and expressive gestures.
He was involved in the 9th Street Art exhibition of 1951 and helped launch the movement that would eventually become known as Abstract Expressionism.
Siskind turned his camera on its head, embracing the process of obscuring subject matter through form. He read the world empirically but also abstractly – through echoing lines, shapes, and textures.
He was a member of the Documentary League, and his photographs of Harlem evoked a sense of social anthropology, inquiring into the lives of its subjects. He also worked as a teacher, including at the Institute of Design from 1951 through 1971. Unlike Pollock or de Kooning, most of the Ninth Street Show artists struggled to gain recognition. Many, like Steubing, even left New York. Only a few, like Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, gained increased recognition from the exhibition.
Helen Frankenthaler forged her own path in abstract painting with her unique method of pouring thinned paint onto unprimed canvas, which she called soak stain. In contrast to Jackson Pollock’s heavy gestures, Frankenthaler’s arrangements of colors and shapes often evoked the natural environment.
She was one of the few women included in the 1951 9th Street art exhibition curated by Leo Castelli. This exhibition, a derelict storefront far from Manhattan’s upscale galleries, is now seen as the real breakthrough moment for Abstract Expressionism.
Some artists who exhibited in the show, like Pollock, de Kooning, and Kline would achieve great fame, but others, such as Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Frankenthaler, struggled to become recognized as serious artists in their own right.
Joan Mitchell, whose work straddles the line between abstract expressionism and gestural abstraction, was a central figure of the 9th street art exhibition. Her slashing brushstrokes and vigorous diagonals are reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings.
After completing her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she moved to Greenwich Village and became friends with painters such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. She joined the male-dominated Artists Club and participated in the 9th Street Art Exhibition of 1951.
The show was one of the first to introduce Abstract Expressionism to the public. The Katonah Museum of Art pays homage to the women of the show, including Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler.
The nine-week Ninth Street Art Exhibition of 1951 was a watershed moment for Abstract Expressionism. Though Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning gained immediate acclaim, the majority of artists who participated in this hastily-arranged event remained obscure. Many would eventually withdraw from art entirely, but others forged ahead and grew into some of the most important proponents of New York School painting.
Two paintings on view in this exhibition, Stretch Yellow and Cornucopia, exemplify Krasner’s emphasis on geometric relationships. The two works also illustrate a continuity that challenges critics who dismissed her work as gender biased.
The painters featured in this exhibition, from the American artist Perle Fine to the Austrian sculptor Day Schnabel, exhibited an iconoclastic energy. They challenged art criticism’s norms of stylistic purity, shook up the social status quo, and forged their own independence – at times at great cost.
Fine grew up on a farm in Massachusetts and studied at the Art Students League with Kimon Nicolaides. She committed herself to abstraction early on and was a member of the 9th Street group show in 1951. Berry Campbell features a minimalist collage from her Accordment series.More Details