Tuesday Talk: 9th St. Club
04 Feb 2020
Gazelli Art House
London, United Kingdom
Gazelli Art House presents an exhibition of female Abstract Expressionists titled ‘9th St. Club’, as part of its ongoing series of exhibitions exploring key art movements of the 20th century.
The exhibition features works from Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell, and is inspired in part by Mary Gabriel’s acclaimed book ‘Ninth Street Women’. Gazelli Art House is the first gallery to show these artists together in the UK, and the show follows the Tate Modern’s opening of a new room devoted to the work of Helen Frankenthaler, and a recent Lee Krasner retrospective at the Barbican. “It is pertinent to highlight these artists and draw on the parallels and ever changing dynamics between the US, Europe and the UK today. As ever, we look to one another for reference within our own socio-political contexts, and are culturally in dialogue via the art each scene produces.” – Mila Askarova, Director of Gazelli Art House.
The artists belonged to the movement sometimes known as “Abstract Expressionism” and were thought of as rebels and troublemakers, who cunningly produced work abstract enough to be impossible to censor, whilst spirited enough to inspire disobedience. The paintings highlighted an emerging individualism, and beckoned towards an almost mythological heroic and revolutionary spirit in the new era of the self. With their gripping energy the works carried all the rage necessary to transcend their conservative political backdrop and post-war malaise, and all the hope it took to imagine change. The American-dream infused optimism (and hubris) is palpable in the works’ commitment to freedom, liberations of style and fervour that belonged uniquely to this specific group, place and time.
The original 9th street exhibition was held in 1951, and was a ground-breaking display of the New York avant-garde art scene. The community of artists gave form to the struggles, tensions and release of a turbulent moment, the reverberations of which remain felt today. The collectivity of the group was established in part at the artists’ club (known as “The Club”), which operated as a hearth-like nucleus for the overlap between the artistic and literary community. Ideas and practices were generated from the communal effort to respond to the Salon culture of Paris, and resulted in the co-creation of a scene bursting with pride and American idiosyncrasy. Despite the supposed dictum that “no women, communists, or homosexuals” were allowed as members it became a fertile space for progressive interactivity, which supported the connections between one another and to the world at large.
The women included in the show fought to exhibit, exist and love among their (originally) more deified and more marketed male counterparts. The vitality that is so present in the works is all the more profound for the daring it took to step into the ring of expressionist machismo, and produce work that gestured towards the same bombastic and naked energy, whilst also being nuanced and romantic. Each artist’s work is animated by their own charismatic persona, and it is clear that in the performance of art-making art was life and life was art. The riotous and dramatic theatricality of their lives plays out in colour and form on canvas, and functioned as a liberating force for cultural and ideological renewal whilst clarifying and focusing the art world. The energetic bursts of abstraction operated like fission - affecting everything around it, and defining an entire era, city, and scene, “hewing a clearing / in the crowded abyss of the West.” 
1 ‘Ode to Willem De Kooning’, Frank O’Hara
Have you been to this event? Share your insights and give it a review below.