By Gail Levin
(William Morrow, Hardcover, 9780061845253, 560pp.)
Publication Date: April 2011
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Lee Krasner is best known as the artist-wife of Jackson Pollock, the renowned abstract expressionist painter. Yet in this riveting new biography, the first full-length account of her colorful life, distinguished art historian Gail Levin challenges previous portrayals of Krasner, and shows that she was an independent and resourceful woman of uncompromising talent and prodigious energy. Krasner emerges as a significant artist who deserves her place in the twentieth century's cultural lexicon and artistic pantheon.
The daughter of Jewish immigrants newly arrived from Russia, Krasner grew up impoverished in Brooklyn. With no support or role model, she began to make her own way during the late 1920s and early 1930s as a talented, outspoken artist and political progressive. Krasner's contemporaries, who took notice of her remarkable sex appeal, drive, and ambition, were either captivated or threatened, but they all found her memorable. During the Great Depression, she supported herself painting murals for the WPA, was called a Trotskyite for speaking out at the Artists Union, and got arrested for demonstrating on behalf of workers' rights.
In 1936 Krasner first encountered an intoxicated Jackson Pollock at an Artists Union dance. They met again by chance when both were about to be featured in the same group show in 1942, and soon they were a couple, marrying three years later. To nurture Pollock and his talent, Krasner gave up her life in the city, where she had socialized easily with fellow artists such as Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Piet Mondrian. Once they moved to Long Island's rural East End, Krasner and Pollock became the center of a new avant-garde community. In this captivating book, Gail Levin probes Krasner's relationship with Pollock, examining how this strong woman struggled to meet the challenges of their poverty, as well as her husband's alcoholism and extramarital affairs, all the while encouraging his art. Levin uncovers never-before-told stories of how Krasner managed so skillfully to market Pollock's work and how this eventually raised prices for all the abstract expressionists.
Drawing on new sources and numerous personal interviewsincluding with Krasner, whom Levin knew and interviewed during the last years of the artist's lifeLevin has written a dynamic, compelling, and moving portrait of a brilliant woman that recovers Krasner's voice and allows us to see that her life intersected with and informed her art.
Gail Levin is the author of Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, Becoming Judy Chicago, and many other books on twentieth-century and contemporary art. She is Distinguished Professor of Art History, American Studies, and Women's Studies at the Graduate Center and Baruch College of the City University of New York.
“Ms. Levin’s perceptive, judicious book reveals Krasner as a fine, important painter....This is an insightful, sharply drawn portrait of 20th-century America from the vantage point of a creative woman swept up in a realm of remarkable artistic productivity.”
-Wall Street Journal
“Art historian Gail Levin’s Lee Krasner is a quintuple whammy of a biography—the story of a major artist; a description of a notorious marriage; an education in 20th-century art; a gossipy immersion into Bohemian New York; and a settling of scores against those who practiced gender bias.”
-O, The Oprah Magazine
“Compelling. Art historian Gail Levin has drawn on her close association with Lee Krasner and extensive research to produce a biography that rings fair and true.
-Los Angeles Times
“It’s about time someone set the record straight about artist Lee Krasner.... Absorbing.... Succinct... Invaluable.... A compelling biography that is as important an addition to the library of American art as any book on Pollock.”
“For the love of art....Art historian Gail Levin frames the extremely colorful life of Lee Krasner, major ass-kicking Abstract Expressionist and formidable genius in her own right, better known for boosting the career of her splashier-than-life husband, Jackson Pollock.”
“Art historian Levin befriended Krasner, starting when she was a grad student who interviewed the artist, and she gives Krasner a well-deserved full-fledged bio.”
-New York Post (Required Reading)
Gail Levin’s stunning new biography finally proves Krasner’s relationship with Jackson Pollock was only a sliver of an enormously colorful life.... Levin’s biography ensures that Lee Krasner will never again be known merely as “Mrs. Jackson Pollock.
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Thorough.... A biography worth celebrating.”
-East Hampton Star
“[B]iographer Gail Levin sets the record straight: Krasner was a fierce, fascinating and gifted artist... Lee Krasner adds more luster, meticulously tracing the artist’s life.”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Written with unassuming grace. This rigorously researched, straightforward account attempts to set the record straight about Krasner....the artist could not have found a more gifted biographer to retell her story and argue her case.... [a] fascinating and absorbing biography.”
-Jewish Daily Forward
“Meticulous Lee Krasner celebrates Krasner’s accomplishments as an artist, distinct from her famous husband. The book...gives voice to the indomitable but not invulnerable force of nature that was Lee Krasner . . . .Energetic, stubborn, seductive...Krasner comes memorably alive.”
-Dan's Papers (Hamptons)
“Levin...is now the first to tell Krasner’s captivating story, writing with equal insight into her teperament, experiences, and art....A consummate scholar, marvelously lucid writer, and gracefully responsible biographer, Levin redresses glaring omissions in the history of abstract art in this imperative portrait of a formidable artist.”
-Booklist (starred review)
“Levin deftly connects Krasner’s biography to the social and political upheaval of the time. Her long experience in the art world gives insight into the landscape of 20th-century artists, art dealers and museums.”
“Gail Levin’s biography of Lee Krasner beautifully evokes a period in American art that laid the groundwork for the women artists of today. Lee... contributed wonderful work but also encouraged a whole new generation of artists. She grew into true generativity. Bless her and her biographer!”
“Rigorous research, deep knowledge of art and cultural history, penetrating analysis and a flair for storytelling bring to life a fully formed Lee Krasner. Those who never knew her will wish they had, and those who did will be amazed.”
-Helen A. Harrison, Director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center