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Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art
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Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

4.53  ·  Rating details ·  1,334 ratings  ·  229 reviews
Five women revolutionize the modern art world in postwar America in this "gratifying, generous, and lush" true story from a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist (Jennifer Szalai, New York Times).

Set amid the most turbulent social and political period of modern times, Ninth Street Women is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating chronicle of
...more
Hardcover, 944 pages
Published September 25th 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
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Average rating 4.53  · 
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 ·  1,334 ratings  ·  229 reviews


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Start your review of Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art
Jeffrey Keeten
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: artists, nonfiction
”All artists succumb to self-doubt; it is the handmaiden of creation. For a woman, however, whether in Virginia Woolf’s early twentieth-century England or Joan Mitchell’s 1950’s New York, that doubt would have been the result of forces both creative and social. Of the latter, Woolf wrote,

’The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write
...more
Doria
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
More than just a fabulous five-way biography of five extraordinary artists, this is also the biography of a place and time and an art movement, a way of life, and a community. Mary Gabriel has fleshed out the story of the artists of the New York School, centering on their heyday during the 40s and 50s, but giving the necessary background material of their Depression-era development.

If this sounds dry and academic, it’s not. The world of the Ninth Street Women and their colleagues, friends and l
...more
Jessie
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
NetGalley ARC.

I think I've been dreaming of this book since college.

As a former Art History Major, I feel like I have to defend Abstract Expressionism, one of my favorite periods. While the paintings of Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Mitchell and Frankenthaler, as well as their male compatriots, may seem simple, they are deceptively complex. No, you could not have painted this Jackson Pollock, and even if you could, you didn't, he did.

While the book focuses on these amazing female artists, it is
...more
Shelley
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
DNF. I read up to chapter 26 (of 42) and then skipped ahead to the epilogue. I picked this up from a podcast rec and did not expect it to be 950(!) pages long. I've noticed the absence of female artists in discussions about art and art history, so a part of me really wanted this book to succeed. Unfortunately, I found it unnecessarily detailed (perhaps a little unrealistically so, for a second-hand biography) and the connections tenuous.

I think this book would have been better served just focus
...more
Evi
Aug 13, 2019 rated it liked it
For a book that was about women artists, I read a lot about male artists. I was craving insight into the minds of these wonderful abstract expressionists: what inspired them, how did they develop, when did they find their style. All of this was muddled with constant anecdotes on tertiary, if not completely irrelevant figures in the women’s lives. If there was any good information on the artists, it was overshadowed by the emphasis on the relationships and love affairs, and otherwise irrelevant i ...more
Miranda Reads
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
description

Lee had charted an alternate course in a world that told her a woman's duty was to submit to her family.
This book chronicles the wildest and strongest years of these five amazing and history-changing women - as they challenge what it means to be an artist.

Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler all lived through a time where women were expected to sit down and shut up...but they were not going to take that.
Siren, saint, creative tempest, athle
...more
Rachel
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic, art, arcs, favorites
Gabriel expertly merges historical context with artistic knowledge, making for an easy read, albeit a long one. It is a length that the reader doesn’t notice much, because they are having so much fun. Why worry about the length of a chapter when you’re following along the adventures of Grace Hartigan and Frank O’Hara? Gabriel creates a vision of these women that is stunning, and not always flattering. These are imperfect women and dedicated artists, all at once. Each chapter is a portrait of an ...more
Katherine
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was the best art history / biography I’ve ever read. The book gives a great overall view of the development of abstract expressionism in the 1940s-50s with a focus on 5 courageous and talented women painters who helped define the genre. Two of them — Lee Krasner and Elaine DeKoonig — married famous men —Jackson Pollock and Bill DeKoonig. Despite their talents they were often regarded as secondary to their spouses. In fact they definitely helped the husbands overcome a lot of issues — Lee ke ...more
Ella A.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Before COVID, I attended the Women Take the Floor exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. During my visit, I came to face to face with a ginormous and arresting purple canvas covered in large, bold, and scratchy swatches of paint. I was so curious about who was the magical artist had managed to create this masterpiece. Her name was Grace Hartigan and the work was entitled "Masquerade." I had never heard of Grace Hartigan before but whoever she was she was incredible. Adjacent to that wo ...more
Natalie
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-plants
Wow wow wow! A thrilling, illuminating, and fascinating romp through the NYC art world from 1928-1959. This is a BIG book with broad scope; kudos to Gabriel for maintaining momentum throughout. I practically devoured the epilogue.

Before reading the book, I knew some info about Helen Frankenthaler -- but almost nothing about Lee, Elaine, Grace, and Joan. Now I am going to dive into each of their oeuvres! Not to mention the other male and female painters and poets surrounding them. What a time it
...more
Aloha
Fabulous!

This book is dense with vivid details, and expertly crafted weaving through each of the woman artist’s life and the lives of the people influential in the art world . This is one of those books I wish I have time to review if I didn’t have an intense day job. I hope it wins some sort of an award or recognition.

Memorable and going in my favorites.
Robert Lukins
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly vivid and thorough portrait of the New York School, New York, Abstract Impressionism, painting, painters, art, artists. Everything, really. Bloody great.
Jules
May 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
This is more of a social history of abstract expressionism with 5 female artists as touch points than an art historical or critical work. There's sort of a curious selection of detail from skipping over John Cage and Merce Cunningham's relationship (they were ... friends) and pages about peripheral characters or incidents (Dylan Thomas' death and funeral at the White Horse tavern.) I wonder if the original intent of the book was to share the anecdotes that dot the pages told as if the author kne ...more
Jennie Blankenship
Jul 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This book either needed a different name or very heavy editing. Calling it a book about five women is a joke. Half of the book is about Jackson Pollack and his circle of influence on the art community. I understand he was largely responsible for these women's art direction but to include a full biography of his life was unnecessary. This book completely encompasses the art movement of abstract expressionism, but doesn't stop there; it also includes many writers lives as well. It's not a bad book ...more
Kimmy
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: most-memorable
As my friend said, "This book is my new Bible." I cannot recommend Ninth Street Women highly enough. As one who doesn't consider myself a historical literature reader, Mary Gabriel's vivid portraits of the artists on the New York AbEx scene was captivating. I have rarely read a fiction or nonfiction story that was so engrossing. For any artist, New Yorker or historian in your life, this is a must read. ...more
Christine
Sep 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I did enjoy this, but I found the structure of each woman’s story (versus telling the story chronologically and how each woman fit in) too repetitive and wordy. There was also a lot more about the men (and I realize they played an integral role) than I was expecting.
Emmkay
Jun 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
A number of years ago, I saw an art exhibit focused on New York Abstract Expressionists. I'd heard of Jackson Pollock, sure, but the work of Lee Krasner, his wife, wasn't familiar to me at all and really struck me. Since then, I've been curious to learn more about her and about Abstract Expressionism in general. It took me a while, but I've now made my way to and through Mary Gabriel's exploration of the intertwined lives of five women at the forefront of Abstract Expressionism over a 30 year pe ...more
David
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
O to have been at the Five Spot, with Thelonius Monk at the keyboard (employed again, after the loss of his cabaret card), when Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, and crew came through the door. Mary Gabriel fills in the rich background behind five women of the Abstract Expressionist movement—the poets, playwrights, musicians, composers, and choreographers who mutually influenced them; their husbands and lovers; the critics and gallerists and publishers; and the social upheavals taking place in ...more
Christine
Nov 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Over 700 pages of text, plus the forward and intro, and then the acknowledgements, all worth reading! This book was a marathon read and a real escape into the world of the artists who developed the so called "New York School" from the 1930s right up into the sixties and beyond. The author did an amazing research job which includes a healthy dose of primary sources, allowing us to hear the real words of the artists and their friends and families. You gain incite into the bold affairs and the nuan ...more
Melissa
Jan 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Clocking in at 722 pages, I feel like I’ve just done the literary equivalent of running a marathon. Or at least weightlifting! I was really excited for this, excited to learn more about these modern women painters who were largely erased from the discussion of American art and are now making it back in. And there was a lot here to absorb. Lots of sources. Transcripts and tapes of interviews with the artists before their passing. Insights from surviving family and friends. Letters, articles, book ...more
Pamela
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I feel I have climbed a mountain!
This is a massive book which covers way more than the title implies. A magnus opus. And the writing is so engaging it doesn't get boring.
But could have used editing- could easily have been at least 100 pages shorter. Several storied get repeated- one having to do with WW2 which had nothing to do with the book. The bigger world stuff could have been massively cut down. As could the quotes- the ones at the beginning of the chapters and the sometimes quite long ones
...more
Joann
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I have read in a long time and if I could give it ten stars I would. Gabriel takes the reader deep into eleven years of the New York art world, specifically, 1948-1959, introducing many of the artists trying to find their voice, express it and be heard. This was difficult for all artists at that time, but especially for the five women featured in this book. The New York artists were turning the art world on its head and the center of where art “was at” had moved from Paris ...more
John
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book deserves a 5 star rating but I am only giving it 3 stars because pages 432 to page 465 are missing in this book. It is part of one chapter and most of another. I'm surprised that no one has commented on this. I have called the publishers but not heard back from them.

Just when Frank O'Hara is coming on the scene...
...more
Fran Blake
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book--rich in detail about so many artists and writers whose work I've followed for years
& all of it taking place in neighborhoods I've visited or lived in. Fantastic research and so well written, definitely an award winner!
...more
Bree Pappan
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a really good book, but it took me forever to get through. This documents one of my favorite times in the art world and it was led by women artists! This was my Covid-19 shelter at home read.
Peter Landau
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
NINTH STREET WOMEN by Mary Gabriel is the opposite of her abstract expressionist subjects. Unlike them, she paints a clear picture of the 20-odd years around the birth, dominance and fall of this American movement, complete with a vast cast of characters, revolving around five female artists who were largely ignored in the development of abstract expressionism or action painting or nonobjective works — whatever you want to call it. The tone is a hybrid of history, biography, art critique and gos ...more
Tina
Mar 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If you are at all interested in art or strong women you must read this book.

It sends you on a wild adventure through two world wars, the great depression, a time when purchasing art was a tax deduction, and many social changes, while all the while these women are risking everything to be artists, not “women artists”.

Many times during the book some of them were truly starving and giving away art for food. They changed the world for themselves, the men they were with, and for the art world forev
...more
Nicola Pierce
May 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was simply glorious. Gabriel is an exceptional biographer and her brilliance is matched by each of her subjects - five artists I had never heard of before. I devoured this - loved everything about them and their lives, their fierce commitment and devotion to their art. Out of all them, I have discovered a new heroine in the wondrous Elaine de Kooning. The only thing that I didn't like was their actual art. I feel ashamed confessing that. Lord knows that I couldn't wait to get to the picture ...more
Anne
Aug 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book exhausted me. It was exhaustive in its detail and the strong emotions it depicted. These five women were warriors for their art in a man's world. Each of them gave so much of themselves to their art that they, in essence, gave up on other parts of their lives. The book, of course, covers the men in their lives as painters, as livers and husbands, as friends and as adversaries. It was wonderful to feel so drawn into their lives by the book, but it was, as I said, exhausting. Gabriel doe ...more
Melanie Reese
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Every artist, women and men alike - but mostly women - should read this book. Required reading.

However, very long and seemingly unnecessarily so. Could easily be edited down. Perhaps cut all the weirdly detailed pages about Jackson Pollock and his affairs and Willem DeKooning and his affairs... to start.

But, still a fantastic overall read and crucially informative work about the complex lives of some of the most committed, daring, and brilliant artists of our history.
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Mary Gabriel was educated in the United States and France, and worked in Washington and London as a Reuters editor for nearly two decades. She is the author of two previous biographies: Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, and The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of Etta and Claribel Cone. She lives in Italy.

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  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
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“Every so often a painter has to destroy painting. Cezanne did it. Picasso did it with cubism, then Pollock did it. He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. —Willem de Kooning” 3 likes
“Said Simone de Beauvoir in her groundbreaking book The Second Sex,
"Just as in America there is no Negro problem but rather a white problem; just as 'anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem; it is our problem'; so the women problem has always been a man's problem. . . . Men have always held the lot of women in their hands; and they have determined what it should be, not according to her interest, but rather with regard to their own projects, their fears, and their needs.”
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