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Publisher's Summary

A dazzling biography of one of the 20th century's most respected painters, Helen Frankenthaler, as she came of age as an artist in postwar New York

"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)

At the dawn of the 1950s, a promising and dedicated young painter named Helen Frankenthaler, fresh out of college, moved back home to New York City to make her name. By the decade's end, she had succeeded in establishing herself as an important American artist of the postwar period. In the years in between, she made some of the most daring, head-turning paintings of her day and also came into her own as a woman: traveling the world, falling in and out of love, and engaging in an ongoing artistic education. She also experienced anew - and left her mark on - the city in which she had been raised in privilege as the daughter of a judge, even as she left the security of that world to pursue her artistic ambitions.

Brought to vivid life by acclaimed art historian Alexander Nemerov, these defining moments - from her first awed encounter with Jackson Pollock's drip paintings to her first solo gallery show to her tumultuous breakup with eminent art critic Clement Greenberg - comprise a portrait as bold and distinctive as the painter herself. Inspired by Pollock and the other male titans of abstract expressionism but committed to charting her own course, Frankenthaler was an artist whose talent was matched only by her unapologetic determination to distinguish herself in a man's world.

Fierce Poise is an exhilarating ride through New York's 1950s art scene and a brilliant portrait of a young artist through the moments that shaped her.

©2021 Alexander Nemerov (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“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

“Nemerov is emphatic about not neglecting the political side of art. He has written extensively about art that is embedded in social life, and the power of art to prod the conscience and change the world. But in this book he wrestles with another kind of art - art that is deeply self-conscious, inward, sensitive and committed to extending a tradition of art as a sacred calling. The ability to convey the particularity of a sensation, at a precise moment, isn’t political in the usual sense, but it can be deeply ethical, reminding another person of a simple fact that is profoundly hard to process: that other conscious beings exist.... For a long time, art critics and historians have worked to recover the darker truths obfuscated by the glamour and mystique of America at the mid-century, including the world in which Frankenthaler built her career. Next up is redeeming the lightness from that darkness, without indulging the old myths or perpetuating the old inequities. Nemerov believes that is possible. He has written a book that shows us how it can be done.” (Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post)

“Nemerov, a professor of art history at Stanford, explores the abstract expressionist’s career between 1950 and 1960, starting each of the book’s 11 chapters on an important day in her life.... The result is the illumination of not only how central Frankenthaler was to the artistic movement that’s often defined by the likes of Pollock and Rothko, but how she’s also one of the most compelling personalities in contemporary art history.” (WSJ Magazine

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  • adnil
  • 16-06-21

Fierce Poise

Good story about a fascinating era. Sorry to say tho the narration was quite distracting. The « voice of Helen » was so pretentious answered most others that I barely made it thru and almost opted to just buy the book and read it instead. Sorry to say this but I cannot recommend this narration. Gave performance 1* because it was required by audible.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Aunt B
  • 06-09-21

interesting informative

I enjoyed the book. I came away with a different view of Frankenthaler than before. I found the Helen voice very condescending and uppity. I guess that is how some people saw her. It took away from the story for me. but good book anyway

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  • Frank H
  • 30-04-21

Somewhat disappointed

After reading the lengthy tome, 9th Street Women (which is a fabulous, timely and well-worthy read!) I found 'Fierce Poise' repetitive of the Helen Frankenthaler story with which I was already familiar. While her decade of the 50's was a seminal beginning for her talent and background to be able to explore, I expected more insight regarding the development and interactions behind Frankenthaler's skill.
I consider it peculiar that the author, who apparently chose not to meet or interview her, did not do so - even while his family was associated with her own original family.
In addition, due to this, I found it even more unusual, and inappropriate, that in his Intro, the author decided to call this famed painter by her first name.
While the reader, Allison Fraser is excellent in other works to which I've listened, her tone and attitude taken when quoting/acting the role of Frankenthaler in the book, is cloyingly affected. Fingers scraping a blackboard for me.
However, Frankenthaler remains one of my very favorite painters - and I was exposed to the details of many titled works.

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  • EKSparks
  • 10-04-21

Awful narration

Enjoyed the content, though often felt the need to clarify the somewhat abstractly poetical accounts of the paintings wi a google search for images. However, the book was nearly ruined for me by the Audible narration which adopted a drawling, petulant, pretentious voice for Frankenthaler that made me want to slap her upside the head every time she opened her mouth. Seems quite a strange ( and inevitably sexist) editorial decision to intentionally trivialize the main subject of a book by constantly emphasizing how annoying she was. Listening to it required conscious resistance to the parody I was being offered.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 26-03-21

I don’t want to write a review

And can’t get rid of the box so I can go back and re-listen to this book
It’s beyond annoying!