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

Mary Gabriel. Little, Brown, $35 (944p) ISBN 978-0-316-22618-9

Gabriel (Love and Capital) delivers an immersive group biography of Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Joan Mitchell—eclectic, free-spirited painters who, with their artist husbands and partners, shocked the art world in the 1940s and ’50s with abstract expressionism. The hard-fought ascent of these artists occurred amid years of poverty in spartan New York City apartments (the de Koonings sold their blood to buy kerosene to heat their home). When the market for abstract expressionism boomed in the late 1950s, collectors snapped up blue-chip works by male artists, but women artists, despite their contributions to the movement, were largely written out of the story. Gabriel’s heavy use of firsthand accounts gives the narrative an intimate feel and exposes often painful personal lives, as exemplified by Krasner’s difficult marriage with Jackson Pollock, whose descent into alcoholism and grisly death makes for difficult reading. Through the lens of these women’s lives, Gabriel delivers a sweeping history of abstract expressionism and the postwar New York School, and an affectionate tribute to the underappreciated women of America’s avant-garde. Illus. [em](Sept.) [/em]