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Life and Loves of Lee Krasner

As the abstract expressionist moved towards maturity, she was able to break free

by Naomi Pfefferman

October 21, 1999 | 8:00 pm

In the summer of 1956, painter Lee Krasner hastily packed her bags and left her husband, the famed abstract expressionist, Jackson Pollock.

For months, the tension in their marriage had escalated; their violent arguments often ended as Pollock stormed off to a tavern or the arms of another woman. When he sustained a torrid affair with Ruth Kligman, a 25-year-old art student, Krasner had had enough.

In July, she sailed for Europe. But shocking news brought her home from Paris just a few weeks later. After a day of drinking, she learned, the 44-year-old Pollock had crashed his car into a tree and died. Kligman survived the accident. But she did not bother to remove her clothing from Krasner's closet before the painter returned home.

The story reads like a tabloid saga, admits art historian Robert Hobbs, guest curator of the Lee Krasner Retrospective now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But, he says, it does not diminish Krasner's status as the only woman among the first generation of New York abstract expressionists. Though for many years she was primarily known as the wife and follower of Jackson Pollock, Krasner (1908-1984) brought her own important, feminist persective to abstract expressionism, among other contributions, the exhibit reveals.

It also reveals why Krasner did not settle into inactivity after her husband's death in 1956. Instead, she moved into the large barn Pollock had used as his studio and began one of the most productive periods of her career.

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