Lee Kras­ner: A Biography

Gail Levin
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011
In the annals of art his­to­ry, Lee Kras­ner will for­ev­er be over­shad­owed by her hus­band, painter Jack­son Pol­lock. But Kras­ner was a sig­nif­i­cant painter in her own right, as illus­trat­ed in this first-ever biog­ra­phy and painstak­ing­ly detailed chron­i­cle of her life by art his­to­ri­an Gail Levin, who as a grad­u­ate stu­dent first met Kras­ner in 1971. Kras­ner, a pio­neer of abstract expres­sion­ism who died in 1984, has been mis­rep­re­sent­ed by the art world, left out of muse­ums and art his­to­ry text­books, and ignored by crit­ics. But Levin want­ed to set the record straight for this tal­ent­ed and dar­ing woman who once said of Pol­lock: I didn’t hide my paint­ings in a clos­et; they hung on the wall next to his.”

The exhaus­tive account fol­lows Kras­ner from her impov­er­ished Brook­lyn child­hood and stu­dent days at Coop­er Union to her work for the Works Progress Admin­is­tra­tion dur­ing the Great Depres­sion and her jaunts with fel­low artists and bold­faced names— from William de Koon­ing to Peg­gy Guggen­heim— through polit­i­cal and artis­tic move­ments includ­ing mod­ernism, fem­i­nism, and com­mu­nism, though Kras­ner notes she nev­er joined the par­ty prop­er.”

But Krasner’s life was a strug­gle laden with anti-Semi­tism and sex­ism. The only thing I haven’t had against me was being black,” Kras­ner was quot­ed in News­day. I was a woman, Jew­ish, a wid­ow, a damn good painter, thank you, and a lit­tle too inde­pen­dent.” She also sup­port­ed her hus­band through his alco­holism, depres­sion, and infi­deli­ties until he died in 1956. Kras­ner out­lived Pol­lock by near­ly three decades, enough time to cement her role in the devel­op­ment of abstract expressionism.

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