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Lee Krasner: A Biography Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Ms. Levin’s perceptive, judicious book reveals Krasner as a fine, important painter....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.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Art historian Gail Levin’s Lee Krasner is a quintuple whammy of a biography—the story of a major artist; a description of a notorious marriage; an education in 20th-century art; a gossipy immersion into Bohemian New York; and a settling of scores against those who practiced gender bias.” (O, The Oprah Magazine)

“Compelling. Art historian Gail Levin has drawn on her close association with Lee Krasner and extensive research to produce a biography that rings fair and true. (Los Angeles Times)

“It’s about time someone set the record straight about artist Lee Krasner.... Absorbing.... Succinct... Invaluable.... A compelling biography that is as important an addition to the library of American art as any book on Pollock.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

“For the love of art....Art historian Gail Levin frames the extremely colorful life of Lee Krasner, major ass-kicking Abstract Expressionist and formidable genius in her own right, better known for boosting the career of her splashier-than-life husband, Jackson Pollock.” (Vanity Fair)

“Art historian Levin befriended Krasner, starting when she was a grad student who interviewed the artist, and she gives Krasner a well-deserved full-fledged bio.” (New York Post (Required Reading))

Gail Levin’s stunning new biography finally proves Krasner’s relationship with Jackson Pollock was only a sliver of an enormously colorful life.... Levin’s biography ensures that Lee Krasner will never again be known merely as “Mrs. Jackson Pollock. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Thorough.... A biography worth celebrating.” (East Hampton Star)

“[B]iographer Gail Levin sets the record straight: Krasner was a fierce, fascinating and gifted artist... Lee Krasner adds more luster, meticulously tracing the artist’s life.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Written with unassuming grace. This rigorously researched, straightforward account attempts to set the record straight about Krasner....the artist could not have found a more gifted biographer to retell her story and argue her case.... [a] fascinating and absorbing biography.” (Jewish Daily Forward)

“Meticulous Lee Krasner celebrates Krasner’s accomplishments as an artist, distinct from her famous husband. The book...gives voice to the indomitable but not invulnerable force of nature that was Lee Krasner . . . .Energetic, stubborn, seductive...Krasner comes memorably alive.” (Dan's Papers (Hamptons))

“Levin...is now the first to tell Krasner’s captivating story, writing with equal insight into her teperament, experiences, and art....A consummate scholar, marvelously lucid writer, and gracefully responsible biographer, Levin redresses glaring omissions in the history of abstract art in this imperative portrait of a formidable artist.” (Booklist (starred review))

“Levin deftly connects Krasner’s biography to the social and political upheaval of the time. Her long experience in the art world gives insight into the landscape of 20th-century artists, art dealers and museums.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Gail Levin’s biography of Lee Krasner beautifully evokes a period in American art that laid the groundwork for the women artists of today. Lee... contributed wonderful work but also encouraged a whole new generation of artists. She grew into true generativity. Bless her and her biographer!” (Erica Jong)

“Rigorous research, deep knowledge of art and cultural history, penetrating analysis and a flair for storytelling bring to life a fully formed Lee Krasner. Those who never knew her will wish they had, and those who did will be amazed.” (Helen A. Harrison, Director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center)

From the Back Cover

Lee Krasner is best known as the artist-wife of Jackson Pollock, the renowned abstract expressionist painter. Yet in this riveting new biography, the first full-length account of her colorful life, distinguished art historian Gail Levin challenges previous portrayals of Krasner, and shows that she was an independent and resourceful woman of uncompromising talent and prodigious energy. Krasner emerges as a significant artist who deserves her place in the twentieth century's cultural lexicon and artistic pantheon.

The daughter of Jewish immigrants newly arrived from Russia, Krasner grew up impoverished in Brooklyn. With no support or role model, she began to make her own way during the late 1920s and early 1930s as a talented, outspoken artist and political progressive. Krasner's contemporaries, who took notice of her remarkable sex appeal, drive, and ambition, were either captivated or threatened, but they all found her memorable. During the Great Depression, she supported herself painting murals for the WPA, was called a Trotskyite for speaking out at the Artists Union, and got arrested for demonstrating on behalf of workers' rights.

In 1936 Krasner first encountered an intoxicated Jackson Pollock at an Artists Union dance. They met again by chance when both were about to be featured in the same group show in 1942, and soon they were a couple, marrying three years later. To nurture Pollock and his talent, Krasner gave up her life in the city, where she had socialized easily with fellow artists such as Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and Piet Mondrian. Once they moved to Long Island's rural East End, Krasner and Pollock became the center of a new avant-garde community. In this captivating book, Gail Levin probes Krasner's relationship with Pollock, examining how this strong woman struggled to meet the challenges of their poverty, as well as her husband's alcoholism and extramarital affairs, all the while encouraging his art. Levin uncovers never-before-told stories of how Krasner managed so skillfully to market Pollock's work and how this eventually raised prices for all the abstract expressionists.

Drawing on new sources and numerous personal interviews—including with Krasner, whom Levin knew and interviewed during the last years of the artist's life—Levin has written a dynamic, compelling, and moving portrait of a brilliant woman that recovers Krasner's voice and allows us to see that her life intersected with and informed her art.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061845256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061845253
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #549,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Gail Levin is Distinguished Professor of Art History, American Studies, and Women's Studies at The Graduate Center and Baruch College of the City University of New York. Her many books, include a well-known series on Edward Hopper, culminating in 1995 in a four-volume catalogue raisonné and Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, which The Wall Street Journal chose in 2007 as one of the five best portrayals of artists' lives, going back in its selections to 1931. She has also written biographies of Judy Chicago and Lee Krasner, collaborated on films about Edward Hopper, Lee Krasner, and other topics and had a cable television show, Art at Issue. Her most recent project, Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art, includes a book, a website, and a touring exhibition. See http://nml.cuny.edu/theresabernstein/ or
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2a4EtwkQQM for a video interview with Gail Levin.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Cassandra Langer on April 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Finally a real down to earth book on Lee Krasner's life and art by a first rate art historian. Gail Levin tells the heart-felt story of Lee Krasner's struggle to be seen as an artist in her own right instead of being folded into the Jackson Pollock legend she helped to create. I interviewed Lee in the 1980s and found her to be a warm, witty and intelligent woman willing to talk about Jackson Pollocks life and art as well as her own.
She was a powerful artist in her own right who because of the art world's discrimination against women was not given her due. Gail Levin's new biography is a much needed corrective to the view that Lee was just the little wife painting in the bathroom who kept shinning up Pollock's tarnished image.
As this book shows Lee was an artist of some note before she ever met Jackson. She was the one who shored him up and helped him find his own style as well as introducing him to an art world he did not know.
What emerges from this biography is a fresh look at Lee Krasner as a woman from a Jewish family trying to make a name for herself in art. It shows her to be a devoted wife and friend to Jackson Pollock despite his drinking and abuse of her love for him. It details her struggles to keep the marriage together and somehow integrate her art into this volitile mix. Levin's strong writing style, her intimate knowledge of the artist and the art scene give us a moving picture of what it meant to be a woman artist emerging during the 1940s and finally getting some recognition because of the women's movement in the late 1970s.
This book is a triumph of scholarship and will stand the test of time and those who refuse to take a fresh look at this extraordinary woman.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Nancy E. Weltchek on April 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Lee Krasner was an amazing woman. I knew a little bit about her from the Pollock movie and from other biographies I've read about important figures in the Abstract Expressionist period, but this book told me who the real Lee Krasner was, and she was more fascinating than anything I'd heard before. Gail Levin is clearly an incredible researcher, and she brings Krasner to life through great stories and anecdotes. I'd heard about Krasner's relationship with Jackson Pollock, of course -- and she brings their marriage, and all its ups and downs, to vivid life -- but she also describes Krasner's fascinating relationship with Igor Pantuhoff, a young painter himself with whom Krasner had a passionate affair years before she met Pollock. This is a very sexy book, and a great drama of people living their lives while pursuing great art. But always at the center is Lee, and you won't be able to put this book down until you find out what she does next. Gail Levin is a great biographer because she makes you feel as if you are reading an epic novel. This is a great book, and one that is also incredibly enjoyable
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By disco75 on May 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lee Krasner's life is one that certainly warrants a biography. We've really needed more exposure for Krasner's work from the 30s and 40s, on the one hand, and the 60s-80s on the other. This bio has in fact broadened the years for examination past the Pollock years. Her tenacity with Abstract Expressionism, WPA participation, fights for social justice, sheltering an artistic spouse, business savvy for her own and her late husband's work, socializing in circles interesting to art afficionados-- a very full life.

Levin writes from an informed position with regard to the artwork, troves of correspondence and articles from which to quote, and an acquaintance with the artist late in her life. Levin is clearly invested in her subject and sets out to correct some mistakes in the lore about the painter. The mistakes she focuses on fall roughly into two categories: the artist's place in the pantheon of Abstract Expressionists, and authorial missteps or misattributions. Correction in the former category of artistic merit is subjective, but prospective readers will want to know Levin is essentially a hagiographer in this volume. Correction in the latter category of previous writing mistakes turns out to be generally trivial, be they a purported Irving Sandler remark, tiny errors by Pollock biographers, or even the falling out between Krasner and dissertation writer Ellen Landau. Setting the record straight on these topics does little to sway the arc of Krasner's impressive life.

That life arc can be difficult to conceive in this book. A good deal of footnote material is included in the main text, leading a reader through numerous persons, dates, and institutions that are important to document somewhere but for biography purposes bog down the narrative.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joan Ullman on July 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gail Levin is justly admired for her prodigiously researched and vividly written biographies. However, she's outdone herself in her new book about Lee Krasner. Levin met Krasner when she was an art history student; the two subsequently became friends. This connection, as well as Levin's knowledge of the art world and of many of the personalities associated with her story, pay off in her sensitive and discerning book. The author's seamless integration of Lee Krasner's life and art,from her growing up with poor immigrant Jewish parents, to her earliest years of study in art, provides unique insight into her thought and development as an artist. The book also paints a vivid portrait of the politics and personalities at play in America's vital, mid-20th-Century art world with all its inhospitality to women. Levin above all makes clear the magnetism, wit and intellect that went well beyond Krasner's legend as Jackson Pollock's homebody wife. She also shows that Krasner was a central figure in this heady enviroment well before she met the supremely talented but difficult Pollock, the man she wed and for whom she, like so many wives in the `40's and `50's,subordinated her work to care for him and nurture his. In revealing Krasner in all her complexity, Levin makes accessible not just Krasner's little understood and often undervalued art, but the formidable, seemingly inaccessible woman, the pre-feminist and pioneering Abstract Expressionist painter in her own right.
The fifties was the most exhilarating period in American art and Gail Levin has penned a book to match: a fast paced, fascinating, unputtable-downable read!
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