I am so excited to say that my first ever guessed on the great woman artist podcast is the brilliant Ellen and N. Currently a curator at the Barbican Art Gallery. Eleanor has worked on a number off critically acclaimed exhibitions and publications, including the mammoth basket Boom for Real in 2000 and 17, the first large scale exhibition in the UK off the American artist Jean Michel Basquiat that brought together over 100 works. Andi more recently she curated the absolutely mind blowing exhibition Lee Krasner. Living Color. Who was the artist that we're going to be discussing today? Welcome, Eleanor. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming on this podcast of having my first guest. It's an honor. The responsibly Krasner was completely incredible. I mean, as was the exhibition. I think what struck me the most, you know, like so many other people I've spoken to about this exhibition, is how unknown Lee Krasner waas in the wider context of Abstract Expressionism and the history of art on also just the overwhelming vastness and brilliance off her work that I genuinely just feel like I've missed out on. So just for our listeners can you just summarize who Lee Krasner, Waas and what she was known for. Of course, we should probably say that your experience was really common to many. So there's only one work by Lee Krasner in a public collection in the UK, and it's currently on display in Tate Modern In There in the studio section. I went and saw it today on. We didn't borrow it for the show because it felt really important to me that it stayed there where it belonged. Andi, Before I began working on this exhibition, I'd maybe only seen a handful more than that. Soto wind back. She is born in 1908 in Brooklyn. She is born into a Jewish emigre family. They come over from what would now be part of the Ukraine, but was then part of Russia. She's the first child in their family born in the US Andi. There are really working class family, and she's only 14 when she decides that she wants to be an artist, and she doesn't entirely know why, but she's really set on it at the time. There's only one school in all of greater New York where you can study art as a woman, so she's really determined that Washington Irving's where she's going to go. She then goes on to receive quite an extraordinary artistic education for the time. It's not easy as a woman to be able to do that. So she goes to the Cooper Union. She goes to the National Academy of Design. She goes to the Art Students League briefly on. Then, of course, she goes and studies with Hans Hoffman Andi at the point at which she meets her husband, through whom she's perhaps become better known. Jackson Pollock. She is really the more established artists, so that's in the early 19 forties, and she exhibits her work then on indeed, throughout her career, although it's really not until the mid sixties that she starts to get any degree of institutional recognition. So she has a major exhibition here, actually in London in 1965 a number of important shows in the US, particularly at MoMA in 1984 which sadly opens just six months after she dies. But, you know, at the time I think she was maybe the fourth or fifth woman artists who have ever had a solo show up moment, so that's a major moment in her artistic career. So obviously you are such a sort of specialist in a kind of American abstract work. Anyway, when was it that you first saw Christmas work for the first time? And what was your reaction? I find it hard to know. To be honest, I don't remember the first time I saw her work. Maybe because she was a name that was known to me long before I would have ever seen examples of her work. And it was probably only really when I started to travel a little bit in the U. S for research trips, and I would have the luxury of being able to maybe have 20 minutes or something before a meeting. And you think I'll go and walk and look in the museum's permanent collection. But the first breakthrough moment was when there was a small exhibition that had been organized at the Picasso Museum in Malaga. On it was ostensibly about Pollock. It was about his mural. Painting a mural is a really important breakthrough. Peace, and they showed a few different artists. I think, largely they were wanting to say here some artists who've been impacted by Pollitt on Krasner would say that herself on. But there was a work by her called Another Storm, which we ended up showing right in the heart of the show. It's a piece that is absolutely enormous. I'm trying to now think, What the exact No, it's from the primary Siri's. So it's the work she made immediately after that. It's one of the first work she makes using color again after she's been in that restricted palette of roar and burn number. It's probably about 3.5 m across. Okay, so it's pretty impact. It's really high impact, and it's almost entirely painted in Eliza Rin Crimson. So it's got also this restricted palette. Andi, I stood in front of this work and I think often is a curator. What you're tussling with is you know, this might be an artist that I love. This might be an artist that I would want to have a poster of their work on my wall, but do they speak to my time? Are they going to speak to other people on people who are and aren't like me on? Are they gonna say something that's what you need a good exhibition to be doing. And one of I think the central challenges of when women artists were first being shown in the 19 seventies. So when Krasner has a show at the Whitney that Marcia Tucker organizes in 1973 is quite a part of that whole feminist movement, it all she has a very ambivalent status with it, you know, she says, it arrived too late. You know how wonderful it would have been far if it could have common ameliorated her circumstances. 40 years, you know she was dealing with hands, Hoffman saying. This is so good. You wouldn't know it was done by a woman, you know. So by the time feminism comes along, she's kind of charmed. But she's also conscious that it's not gonna help her out. So But the point really was that when the witnesses doing that show and when other exhibitions of that kind of being staged, it feels like what is sometimes called her stories trying to take women's stories and insert them into this largely white male history. Rather than feeling like we might also just be showing them because they're a great artists and the fact that there are women. Artist is there too, and it's relevant. But more than anything, they're just a great artist that speaks to our moment. And standing in front of another storm, I thought, I think a lot of people will likely feel what I feel on. Did you know much about her? Story is Well, while you were looking at that work, so I had some sense that she had quite a serious artistic training, and that was really important to me. Sometimes you can be seduced by a story, Andi Exhibition making in part is about storytelling. But you need the art objects to stand up for themselves, Absolutely partly because lots of people are gonna walk through your show and they're not going to read a single piece of text on that wall. So you need to feel confident that for those people who are gonna walk through it backwards look at four things that they, too, were going to take a lot from it. I could tell from the work itself that she had a very serious technical training that, for instance, she knew what she was doing with color on about how color effects movement and so much of what these painters were trying to achieve was that sense of like, emotional effect. And some of that is by creating the sense of turbulence or three idea that something's kind of roiling within the canvas. But to make something two dimensional feel three dimensional is is complicated now, in terms of more than that, I didn't know a great deal, and I started to read up on. I think a big breakthrough for me was reading Gail Levin's biography, and Gale's work started to open up all of these other kind of avenues of thought for me about her relationship to Montreal, her inviting leisure to come over during the war, her exhibiting with the American abstract artist. It really gave me a sense of the vibrancy of many different decades of her career that I knew when staging this show, that a lot of the press would center around her marriage to Pollock, and I knew that I needed to feel confident that yes, that's one thread of narrative within the exhibition. But I needed to feel sure that there were many other strands to that tapestry. Absolutely, I needed such a brilliant job in the sense that also, there are so many careers within the whole within her career. I mean, you're starting off with these little images. You have a look at the portraiture, the classic. I mean, she was a fantastic draft woman. There's so much going on, and I know how she talks about how autobiographical her workers as well. I know that subjects always up for debate, but I'd love to just take you back to what you mentioned that she was born in Brooklyn in 1908 So what was her childhood like? And was she an artist from the get go? But she always interested in it. Um, she had a very kind of humble home, but one in which there was quite an intellectual culture. But she's not. I mean, if you compare her to someone like Joe Mitchell, who's growing up in Chicago in an incredibly wealthy home on is regularly visiting the Art Institute, for instance. That's not her experience. There is no sense, at least in the descriptions that she's left behind, that she was regularly going to the museums and kind of soaking up the atmosphere that doesn't really happen until she's in her late teens early twenties, and then she really seeks it out. So once she's an art school, once she's a cupe union, then, of course, MoMA, as we call it now. It was always called the Modern, then opens in 1929 in February. And that's a nen or mus breakthrough because many of those artists have been looking at magazine, which have black and white illustrations of Suzanne paintings in them. And that's kind of all they've got to feed off. And suddenly they've got the rial thing in the flesh on their walls on the Modern at that time is just a Siri's off rented rooms in the Hampshire building. Now that's really interesting. But when she's younger, does she decided that she wants to be an artist because obviously it's such a kind of early decision to make, and we're her family supportive of it because they're also Russian Jewish immigrants. The reaction to communism. It's a really interesting time to have background affect her work or her decision to become an artist in the first place it all I mean, we had this little video at the end of the exhibition, which was a really highlight. Actually, she's such a force of nature and she's so funny and, you know, just to watch her hand gestures. You feel like you have such a sense of her. And, you know, she has this funny line in it. And she says, And still, despite several years of analysis, I have yet to figure out why it was that I was 14 and I decided I wanted to become an artist. So, yes, she had this conviction very young. But why she did or where that came from, she doesn't really know, and we know that she was a pretty spunky teenager. So, you know, she had been relatively devout. Her family were very orthodox Jewish, and she'd been relatively devout up until the point in which she becomes a young teenager. And at that point, she starts toe understand what is being said about women in the scriptures, and she describes herself as shocked to the core, and she really rails against it from that point on. And when she talks about her family in relation to this, she sort of says, you know, they said they wouldn't give me too much trouble if I didn't give them too much trouble. But you know when she's going to Washington, Irving, the schools in Manhattan, she's living in Brooklyn. They've only just built the subway line, which will allow her to take it. It's an hour's commute each way, so there's a sense of her dedication to her craft. Even at this very, very early point, she's really committed. I mean, reading about her as well. She just seems so determined because then obviously she goes on to Cooper Union, and then she starts to study under Hans Hoffman. But just before that, with the modern opening in 1929 obviously she must have Bean what, 21 at the time, So that's so young as well, to be that ambitious and that knowledgeable as well, to sort of know that this big museum opens on the first day. What was she looking at before then? And was there a certain work in the modern that stuck out for her? Do you think she always said that her two gods were Picasso, Matisse? But I think if she had to pick, she would have said Matisse on Matisse's The Person who you really see her going back to recurrently across the course of, um, her career, and I think she's really finding her own way. I mean, when you look at Cooper Union at the time, it's a women only art school on. Even at that point, she is really tiring of the people who she's around of the teachers who are teaching her. So she has a very combative relationship with authority throughout her life, but particularly with tutors on when she gets to the National Academy of Design, which is where she is from about 1929 I guess it's part of what you're getting at here is that it's important for us to recover something of the socio historical context, to remember why that was so brave at the time. On I think part of what I think about in relation to that is, on the one hand, she's got the strictures of this very orthodox emigre family where the primary language is being spoken, a Russian and Yiddish on. On the other hand, she's got the 19 twenties in America on the birth of the jazz baby on and a sense of women's liberation. You know, women have just been able to get the right to vote, and she's really drinking in that spirit in Manhattan, I think, and that infuses itself in her work very quickly. God, I'm literally getting shivers. It's such an incredible story, because also what I'm thinking off is that self portrait from 1930 that she painted in that work age 21 or 22. I don't know when she's painting it. It's such a determined pose. She seems so secure in herself those lips that interest in color is there, but her determination, it's just essentially because I am I right in thinking that she used that work to apply for art school and then they didn't even believe her or something that she had painted it. I mean, the self portrait. It's a fascinating, and I really struggled with it at a certain point because, you know, there's a certain kind of curatorial cliches, and one of them is that when you don't wanna graphic show is that you do your introductory texts, and next to it you have some lovely kind of silver gelatin print of the artists at some particularly attractive mobile, their career we'll love it. Um, and the other one is that you have some kind of opening room of their self portrait, which we feel kind of touched by their their attempts toe grapple with their own image. And so I was really kind of tort about whether or not I wanted to do this. And in the end I felt that it was really critical, and I was looking very closely at things like, what did she choose to be exhibited in the 1965 exhibition so well, she's very involved in that she was very involved in it. Brian Robertson, who was the director and also the curator. You know, this incredibly important in illustrious figure at the time. He was a great friend of hers, and it was interesting to me that she doesn't include se mural studies from the 19 thirties. There's lots of work that she, um it's, but she does include a couple of those self portrait. It's on. I thought, you know the reason why we need tohave them is because it's not just an academic exercise in how to capture your own image and yourself is, you know, literally at hand. It's her trying to wrestle with what it means for higher is a woman with all of these strictures. Andi obstacles in the way. What it means for her to be saying, I am going to be an artist. This is what I'm going to do And in that picture you're speaking about, you know, she's wearing these overalls and she's got this blue collar shirt on and she's got her hair looks a Ziff. It's been kind of cropped on dis gays just locks you as a viewer on. It's far from the most accomplished painting that she ever made, but that's not really what makes a picture work on. It manages to hold us, I think so. She painted it to gain promotion to the life drawing class, which again is in and of itself very significant, given that it was only relatively recently in the US that women were even allowed to draw men in the nude. But anyway, the point is, she paints this portrait to gain promotion. And when it goes to the committee, they refused to believe that an artist of her age, she's 19 at the time would have been able to paint such an accomplished planet portrait. And to be honest, I think they did her a great favor because she dines out on this anecdote for the rest of her artistic career. It's one of a kind of favorite accomplishments, and so then fast forward. A few years she starts to study under Hans Hoffman, who is kind of renowned in the city for being this guy who was. Is he kind of introducing Cubism toe more classical painters? Exactly. So she really seeks out Hoffman on. I guess this is the point where we have to remind ourselves that this sort of moment in the 19 thirties in the US there aren't that many places where you can gain a training, which is really looking at kind of European modernism. So what is the Great Depression as? Well? Exactly, exactly. So Hoffman has gained this reputation because he's originally German. He spent time in Paris. He's new Picasso and Braque, you know, he's sort of soaked up this Continental spirit and has come to the U. S. With the intention of founding the school on DMA. Any off the artists who would go on to become an important part off what becomes known as Abstract Expressionism, would study with Hoffman over the years on. And, um, he is basically introducing the principles of analytical Cubism. But his entire thesis comes down to this idea around what gets called the pushing the poll eso He's interested in how you create tension within two dimensional space, how you make some shapes, fullback and recede and other shapes come forward and jut out how you create a sense of energy and dynamism and movement. And that's what she goes there to learn. I mean, it's those charcoal sketches that I mean, I can't even describe the background, but at the front, it's like this other dimension that's coming towards you. It's like this new. That's bean Cubist, almost elastic, ated as well in itself. And so is this the significant time in her career where she's moving from this classicism into abstraction? It's the moment when she makes the break, and I think there. There are a lot of artists in New York at this time who are kind of grappling for direction. What's the demoiselle in moments that point on show alongside many other quintessential works? So there's a lot of kind of heavy black outlines. There's a lot of Q Boyd forms. There's a lot of flat plains of color. Andi. They're really struggling with how to be able to both assimilate this Andi also kind of turn it into something new on. She's really one of those who is at the forefront of China. Thrash that out. Basically, his first generation. Yeah, that's what she's really kind of up to. At that point. In the late thirties, Andi up to the early forties, she holds onto a studio space at the Hoffmann School. And when Mondrian comes over and sees her work exhibited with the American abstract artist, you know, he says, this is so good. It has such a strong in a rhythm. You must never lose it. So others air kind of commending her on this. But I think she's also conscious the fact that very few of those works from that period survive She was a ruthless editor of her past, just destroy everything, suggests that maybe she felt like it was a journey rather than a destination. But constantly her career. She's picking something up, then destroying it. So, for example, you're getting this draft when it goes into these sort of elastic, hated figures, and then you get to the little images, which is kind of a complete detour. You're like, Hang on a second. And is that when she moved to Springs? And how does that will happen? The little images? In a way, this is her answer to that challenge. So she has about three or four years where she paints nothing but what she calls her Grace Labs. And I think in some ways we could consider her as being in a period of mourning. And she's not the only artist. I mean Rothko. There are others who are also similarly painting in gray, finding themselves moving through this very kind of monochromatic, turgid stuff on a lot of it's about the war. I mean, for a start, there's not. Materials are not readily available, so there's enormous amount of pressure to create something really significant with the scarce amount that you've got to kind of work with. Andi also the reports coming back of what's going on in Europe being a terrific and for somebody who is Jewish, Andi. For somebody who both feels the sense of connection to a culture quote unquote back home on. Yet where is home and what is that home and what is your relationship to it? That's a very kind of complicated process of mourning to be going through. Her father then dies, and I think that's a big part of what she's moving through us. Well, and she moves out. She marries Pollock, they move out to springs, and suddenly something breaks for her. So this is around 45 46 on DSHEA makes the earliest little image that we know dates to 1946. And that's the first work that we showed in the exhibition. And that was really important to me that that beware. The exhibition began with these shards of color on. We have this quote on the wall where she said, I think you can have a tiny painting, that it's monumental in scale, which is not a Ndjn did comment, actually, especially given what's going on out in the barn, which Pollock takes his his studio space. And you know she's working in these very constrained circumstances. She's in an upstairs bedroom, which they've turned into this kind of makeshift studio, and yet she's creating these small, tightly composed little cosmos is there are little signs that we can take as to how she felt about her work. And, you know, she hung these in the guest room. So she she clearly felt she clearly felt pretty proud of them. And then what's she doing from around the sort of mark of the 19 fifties? Because she was with Pollock? At this time? The marriage isn't the best thing. He drinks a lot. Does that impact her work at all? I'm thinking kind of early 19 fifties. Yeah, it definitely does. Ondas she moved. Studio was well at all. So the kind of studio story is that she's in this upstairs bedroom, except for when it's too cold in the barn, at which point Pollock comes in, kicks her out the bedroom, and she has to work in the downstairs living room on DSO. She decides to make these two mosaic tables on. Do you know my thanks to Pollock, Really? Because they are some of the most unusual and exquisite works that she makes. She uses bits of broken tessera and jewelry and keys and coins, and then they're set in concrete and she had a local welder make the legs, and then, around 53 they convert a small out building into a studio for her. But it's still a very small space, so she's really always working in these quite constrained circumstances and in terms of her relationship to Pollock. I always love the phrase she has, she says. I think I caught a comet by the tail, you know, and and there's so much to that because she she always believed in his genius. She was unwavering in that. And that's one thing. If you think off the greatest of Pollock's drip paintings at the point in which she first goes to visit him in his studio at the very end of 1941 it doesn't look anything like anything. And she always always sees this kind of brilliance within his work, and she's committed to that. Actually, I always felt it was important to honor the way she spoke about that relationship and so fast forward to 1956. She is about to go to Paris for the summer, and she's made this work prophecy, which is really at the point of the exhibition that I just my blood ran cold literally because I'm like, Oh my gosh, it's almost as though it's a premonition for something's going to happen. You totally see that, Mademoiselle. There's the thick outlines and she's really scared of this painting. And she she describes the painting as fraught with foreboding. She says it's unlike anything she's made to date Andi. She does what she impale it both used to do with one another. Which is, they'd say to the other, Is it a painting by which they meant, Is it working? And he encouraged her, said it was good. Keep going. Aunt told her to take something that she had. This I sort of half engraved into the paint in the top right hand corner. He told her to take it out. Didn't like it, didn't like the motive. Somehow she ignored him, kept it in Andi. They were meant to have been going on this trip together, and it was a really it was a really significant thing for Krasner. It was her first trip to Europe. It's her first trip abroad. I think it would have been Pollock's first trip abroad to because he just applied for a passport. He got the passport but decided in the end that No, no, no. And so to not just be leaving the U. S. But to be going to France at the time, she also hoped to be going to Italy, but to be going in search of you know, where she thought the land of the birth of modern art. You know, this was a big moment for her, but it was also a moment of reckoning in their relationship. She knew that Pollock was having this affair with Ruth Kligman. There was a degree of an ultimatum, and she leaves on this trip and Pollock sends roses to her hotel. Andi. She writes him a letter, this heartbreaking letter in which she thanks him and tells him that she says, You know what she's seen in the loop and she describes it is overwhelming and beyond belief. And she says she thinks the contemporary painting is terribly bad on on. But she says, PS, how are you, Jackson? Andi, um, she is the one. He gets the cool from Clement Greenberg in Paris to say that he's crashed his car and killed not just himself, but this friend of Ruth Kligman Andi. She Kligman survived. So it's this horrific moment in her life, and she flies back to New York the same night she's met by Bonnie Newman and his wife, and they arranged the funeral, and within weeks she goes back into the studio, and she continues the Siri's. So this again had been a Nurlita idea for me. You have thes kind of instinctual responses when you're shaping an exhibition. I need the show to start with this little image in 1946 because it's brilliant in that it emits light. And I need to start with this moment of clarity and break through. And I need to end those upstairs spaces with this moment off a different kind of breakthrough in a moment of yeah, a real moment of reckoning. And she makes three paintings in that time when she returns to studio birth embrace and three and two and feeling at this point. Well, she's asked that question continually because, of course, Pollock's death is on the front page of The New York Times. She's being hounded by the media on Day one of the interviews says to her. How do you manage to paint at the height of your grief. And she says painting is not separate from life. It is one that is like asking me, Do I want to live on? My answer is yes, and I paint. You know, it's a simple as that we have these much smaller spaces upstairs at the Barbican, and then downstairs is much larger, grander spaces. And I thought, Well, what if that was the transition into the barn? Because that's the moment when the Phoenix rises from the ashes, you know? And she says, I'm going to take that studio and I'm gonna make it mine on I think anyone who's ever experienced riel personal loss and taken a moment to think about what it would have meant for her to not just lose her husband her great love in those circumstances, but then to go and make his working space and a space which had been not just, um, personally very loaded, but also mythologized by those great hands and move photos. Life magazine all of this kind of press coverage, which had always focused on Pollack in the studio, mid drip with stick and you know, to make that space her own. That was quite a knack, totally. And I mean when you go downstairs and just if anyone has seen one of her night paintings, you're just transported into her body almost because also the momentous vastness off them. But the movement off them every Strokers hers because also wasn't She's suffering from insomnia at the time, so she didn't use color because it all had to be artificial light on your just in them and the power off them. And you, totally. When you talk about the quote, we want to breathe. You know, I need to paint to survive. You're just totally getting everything. She's in the canvas. I mean, I really actually felt her presence there, and that's, I think, such a impact of seeing one of her works in the flesh. So what happens after the fifties and sixties? Does she then start to get more recognition? What's the reaction? She's always kind of got her own tempo, which I find interesting. So when we think off, what is the kind of high point of American Abstract Expressionism? Those of us who like to mull over questions like that, You know, it's generally thought to be the late forties and fifties on Do you know craftsman really hits her stride about 1966 s? Actually, by which point you know the trends? The fashions in modern art in the U. S. Has kind of moved on to pop and hard edged abstraction, and Clement Greenberg has completely shifted allegiance. And he's now promoting post painterly abstraction. And Kenneth Noland and Frank, Stellar and you know, But she just doesn't give a damn. I mean, she just doesn't care. And I think again she's at the end of her life. She talks about having been a blessing, that she wasn't given more recognition because it meant that she had this freedom to just move in whatever direction she felt compelled to move in. And I think if the exhibition has affected people, it's because the work is not courting trends, and it's not trying to seduce us. Actually, it's doing something bigger and grander than that, and she writes this statement for the White Chapel exhibition, which is a very weird statement, which is all about. I think painting is as miraculous as a lettuce leaf, but she goes on to describe how basically, ultimately, you can bore yourself to death with questions of should the paint be thick or thin? And should the canvas be big or small and shouldn't be abstract or figurative? But ultimately, these are very redundant questions on what you need to get at is three idea off, she says, to the inner and outer aspects of man into lock. Then you have transcendence. Then you have the letters leave. So she's really she's aiming for something that is quite existentially actually on because she's in her studio space doing her reckoning. She springs okay, so she yeah, she goes back to Manhattan and she keeps abreast of shows, and she's a bit more with it than she likes to kind of let on. But in terms of the work, she's sailing with her own wind, right?