Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York


Product Details

$28.00  $25.76
Penguin Press
Publish Date
6.2 X 9.3 X 1.0 inches | 1.1 pounds

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About the Author

Alexander Nemerov is the Carl and Marilyn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities and the Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University. In 2019, he received the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History from the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art. He is the author of several books, including Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine and Summoning Pearl Harbor.


"[A] lyrical biography. . . . Masterful . . . . Fierce Poise is the latest of a particular kind of artist biography that is unabashedly personal, reveling in the hushed intimacy of a memoir in a way that seeks to demystify great artists by recreating their formative years in straightforward terms--often through what those breakthroughs say about the writer's own life." --The Art Newspaper

"Alexander Nemerov's biography of the painter Helen Frankenthaler is more than just an exploration of an artist, it's also a look back into the lost world of the 1950s Manhattan art scene. Frankenthaler is inarguably a great talent, and it's a pleasure to learn about her life and work, but equally enjoyable is learning how she fit into (or sometimes didn't) a world of painters, critics, collectors, and hangers-on whose impact on American culture can still be seen today." --Town & Country

"Nemerov. . . [creates] a collage-like narrative that conjures the glamor and bustle of postwar New York City, when high art met downtown renegades." --O, The Oprah Magazine

"Tantalizing. . . . lively." --The Los Angeles Times

"Informative and erudite." --Harper's Magazine

"Neither conventional biography nor arm's-length critical appraisal, Alexander Nemerov's Fierce Poise shines a light on Helen Frankenthaler's early artistic breakthrough by blending both forms. . . . A thrillingly alive account of a woman unapologetically pursuing her own vision in an era and a milieu largely defined by men." --Vogue

"Moody and textured, Fierce Poise celebrates, and mimics, Frankenthaler's sweetly explosive paintings." --Vulture

"Pairing vivid anecdotal biography with energetic descriptive analysis, the author recalibrates our perception of Frankenthaler's undulating and entrancing canvases, on which she channeled in-the-moment feelings and celebrated the 'beauty and power and glory' of life. With reverence and irreverent wit, nimble narration, pertinent art history, and a vibrant cast of characters, Nemerov chronicles the first round in Frankenthaler's extraordinary artistic adventure." --Booklist


"The magic of Alexander Nemerov's portrait of Helen Frankenthaler in Fierce Poise is that it reads like one of Helen's paintings. His poetic descriptions of her work and his rich insights into the years when Helen made her first artistic breakthroughs are both light and lush, seemingly easy and yet profound. His book is an ode to a truly great artist who, some seventy years after this story begins, we are only now beginning to understand."--Mary Gabriel, author of Ninth Street Women

"Throughout his book, Alexander Nemerov refers to Frankenthaler as 'Helen, ' even though the two never met. By the time I was done reading, I was calling her that, too, and felt she and I had a close connection. It takes courage for a major scholar to assume the personal approach, and voice, that Nemerov does in this biography, but by plunging so deep into Frankenthaler's mind and life, he makes new sense of the veils and stains in her paintings."--Blake Gopnik, author of Warhol

Fierce Poise is an exquisite blend of biography and criticism that excavates Helen Frankenthaler's creative beginnings--and so much more. Every page sparks with Alexander Nemerov's deep knowledge and insights into the everyday exaltations and terrors of making art of any kind, at any time. Anyone who burns to forge their own life should read this book.--Kate Bolick, author of Spinster

"Reading Alexander Nemerov's Fierce Poise felt like basking in the sun on the first warm day of spring. With great sensitivity, Nemerov demonstrates why Helen Frankenthaler's colorful, beautiful paintings deserve our attention. And with warmth and empathy, he chronicles Helen's devotion to her art, which she maintained even in times of turmoil. I finished reading the book feeling newly attuned to the brief moments of grace and joy that can be found in daily life. Fierce Poise, like Helen's paintings, shows us how art can drive away darkness, leaving us to take in the brilliant day."--Maggie Doherty, author of The Equivalents