Last weekend a dear friend of mine was driving to DC and offered to take me with. Some friends I went to high school with are living there for the year, and it was so nice to hang out with people from my hometown– entering their house was like stepping into a portal to Utah.
Something that I’m always excited to see in DC is Helen Frankenthaler’s Mountains and Sea (1952). I really love this painting, especially because studying it was such a formative moment for me in deciding that I wanted to study art history and in particular feminist methodology in art history. It’s a really stunning painting, larger than life and gorgeous in its colors and form. I’ll include a reproduction of it, but no photo can do it justice.
I love Abstract Expressionist paintings because looking at them is such a singular, visceral experience– looking at an Abstract Expressionist painting not just a visually pleasing or intellectually stimulating moment of observing an object of significance. Rather, it’s a process: you walk up to this looming canvas featuring colors and shapes that don’t signify anything you’ve seen before, and you stand as close as the security guard will let you and you have to crane our neck to see the entire painting. It’s intimidating, authoritative, and looking up at it like that you wonder if one of its vast fields of color or constellation of splatters will swallow you right up. You feel tempted to back down, as staring down this enormous beautiful thing is terrifying, but somehow you find the courage to keep looking. When you’ve finally looked at every single beautiful inch of the canvas before you, you step away having had a near death experience, having faced a sublime existential void and having survived.
I guess this is all a very wordy way of saying that my relationship with the work of Frankenthaler and her Abstract Expressionist peers is essentially Stockholm Syndrome.