Lee Krasner

Image of Lee Krasner
Release Date: 
June 25, 2019
Thames & Hudson
Reviewed by: 

Presenting Lee Krasner as a new release is a bit of a misnomer, as it is actually just the paperback edition of the exhibition catalog created for the 2019 show of the artist’s work at the Barbican in London. No new material has been added.

Beyond art history students longing for less expensive course books, it’s unclear what a paperback edition of this sort of tome offers. Such image-heavy, monumental exhibitions catalogs revel in being impressive showpieces. They are meant to be flipped through, shown off on coffee tables, and, most importantly, act as authoritative references for art historians. Reprinting Lee Krasner in paperback removes the joy of some of these activities, cheapening all the hard work of the original contributors.

As with the first edition, however, the text is fantastic. It still acts as one of the most complete and nuanced analyses of Krasner’s life and work; it grounds her in the canon of art history with sufficient scholarly clout; and it negotiates the balance between her being Mrs. Jackson Pollock and her own unique person separate from her famous husband.

Printed on flat stock, the photographs have an intimacy more akin to a family photo album than an exhibition catalog. The viewer is presented with images of the Kranser-Pollock residence, shots of tchotchkes in her studio, Polaroids of the artist at work—all lovely details that add texture to Krasner’s story, both as an artist and a woman.

That same printing technique, however, makes the reproductions of her paintings fall a touch flat. There is no luster, not vibrancy—the electric shock of her abstraction feels muted on a paper that sucks in all the light. Even the pigments feel dull, which is a shame given the quality of the rest of the book.

Perhaps one of the most delightful sections focuses on an interview Krasner gave the 22-year-old Gail Levin in 1970 as part of her dissertation. Levin, who would go on to write Krasner’s biography, presents such earnest questions to the artist that the reader absorbs that same youthful enthusiasm and naivety. One is immediately back in school, trying to suss out a big idea, grappling through the dark with questions that both go nowhere and reveal everything. What was your favorite poem? Were you interested in psychology? Did you like Surrealism? What about James Joyce?

Overall, five years after its first publication, Lee Krasner is still the definitive book on the artist. While the hardcover version is infinitely more satisfying, those in need of a more affordable, less heavy option will find this a welcome addition to their backpack.