Art, Art History and Design, School of


Date of this Version

Spring 4-24-2015

Document Type



Alberda, Alexandra. "Constructing Helen Frankenthaler: Redefining a 'Woman' Artist Since 1960." Master's thesis, Department of Art and Art History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2015.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Art History, minor: Art (Studio), Under the Supervision of Professor Marissa Vigneault. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2015

Copyright 2015 Alexandra Alberda


This thesis addresses how academics, curators, and art writers in the popular press reviewed Helen Frankenthaler during her major retrospectives of 1960 (The Jewish Museum), 1969 (The Whitney Museum of American Art), and 1989 (The Museum of Modern Art). Included is an examination of how she has been written about after her death in 2012, with analysis of the changes in the language used to critique the artist and her work as influenced by the advent of feminist theory, social history, and gender theory. I examine recent exhibitions on Frankenthaler at the Gagosian Gallery, New York City, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery held between 2013-2015. Frankenthaler's art and its reception provides a case study of a woman artist whose career was established before the feminist movement in the 1970s, and continues to be relevant in the contemporary art world.

Analysis of how gendered language is applied to Frankenthaler in the popular press and in catalogue essays reveals a shift in art historical writing after feminist theory began to challenge the biases inherent in patriarchal norms and/or universals. These shifts in language reflect a more self-conscious art historical discourse that is able to reevaluate its own canon in order to be more inclusive of all artists.

Advisor: Marissa Vigneault