four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
By: 
Gail Levin
user_rating: 
0

A Biography

missing imageGail Levin, a professor of art history at Baruch College in the City University of New York system, is also the author of Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography (1995) and Becoming Judy Chicago (2007).

The Topic: Lee Krasner liked to say that she painted "before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock." But unfortunately, most people knew her as the wife of Pollock--Jackson Pollock, that is, the famous abstract expressionist artist. Gail Levin's biography charts Krasner's life--from her Jewish immigrant roots in New York through the women's movement of the 1970s. In each phase, Krasner contributed to the development of American art in her own way, including the middle part of her career when she guarded Pollock's work from his own demons as well as art-world interlopers. But Levin primarily focuses on Krasner herself, who does not need to be explained in relation to her famous husband to state her importance.
William Morrow. 560 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780061845253

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Sympathetic yet scholarly, [Levin] inserts her own opinions or interpretations with great restraint and tact, relying on a vast amount of research. ... In the end, a reader comes away with enormous respect for Krasner as a woman and a painter." Barbara Fisher

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It's about time someone set the record straight about artist Lee Krasner. ... As Krasner's story unfolds, Levin skillfully takes the facts of a remarkable life and folds them into a compelling biography that is as important an addition to the library of American art as any book on Pollock." Mary Houlihan

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"As Pollock's facilitator, Krasner is sometimes dismissed as a martyr or drama queen. In Levin's biography, she emerges as a fiery creative force whose husband was an asset and an albatross." Suzanne Muchnic

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Gail Levin's stunning new biography finally proves Krasner's relationship with Jackson Pollock was only a sliver of an enormously colorful life. ... [Her] biography ensures that Lee Krasner will never again be known merely as ‘Mrs. Jackson Pollock.'" Andrea Hoag

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Levin takes up this daunting interpretive challenge [of viewing Krasner's work as ‘autobiographical'] with great subtlety and skill, relating the nuances of Krasner's artistic and personal development to the larger narratives of art history and societal change. ... Overall, 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." Jonathan Lopez

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3 of 5 Stars
"This biography is dense, and it gets tedious reading each of the many reviews and following the convoluted personal relationships. Ultimately, though, the effort is worth it. Levin wants us to think twice about Krasner. And we do." Jo Gibson

Critical Summary

Reviewers tended to agree that Gail Levin was ideally suited to be the biographer that finally established Lee Krasner's significance as an artist in her own right. Not only is Levin a leading expert in modern American art, but she had also cultivated a working relationship with Krasner in the last part of the artist's life when the two became cocurators, colleagues, and friends. Krasner left few written documents, so this connection was essential to telling her story. Furthermore, critics felt that Levin's experience as a biographer and art historian enabled her to include just the right amount of material on Pollock and the artists' relationship, explaining Krasner's vital role in the production and promotion of his work while never forgetting that she was also her own artist.

Supplemental Reading

Jackson Pollock An American Saga | Steven Naifeh (1989): Are we allowing Krasner to be overshadowed by her husband again as we cite this book? Naifeh's biography was the basis for the movie Pollock (2000), starring Ed Harris, and provides a strong overview of the man's life and his place in history.