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Joan Mitchell in New Orleans


Joan Mitchell, whose paintings, prints and pastels hang at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and Newcomb Gallery, respectively, was an American bohemian of the old school. A trail-blazing abstract expressionist, she divided her time between Manhattan and Paris, where she settled for good in 1955. Her expatriate existence may have caused her to become less prominent at home than abstract painter peers such as Helen Frankenthaler or Lee Krasner, but her global reputation grew steadily. Since her death in 1992, the Joan Mitchell Foundation has pursued her goal of supporting artists and has been very helpful to the New Orleans art community as it recovers from Hurricane Katrina.

  Although influenced by Willem de Kooning's gestural flourishes and Franz Kline's stark formalism, Mitchell's vision was more intimately linked to nature. By the late 1950s, her color palette was redolent with the hues of the French countryside, reflecting an evolution away from the starkness of the New York School's abstract expressionism. Her paintings at NOMA are instructive in this regard. Untitled, 1956, (pictured) is gloriously edgy with swampy green, gold and fuchsia patches shot through with black slashes that cause the canvas to almost ooze the existential tensions of the time. Untitled, 1961, is more buoyant and delicate if no less abstract, with colors that hark to Matisse or even Monet, while her works from the late 1960s through the 1980s evidence her rigorous consistency. Her signature tautness of line resonates through large lithographs at the CAC, while some of the later pastels at the Newcomb Gallery exemplify a relentless evolution as a vibrant colorist. Taken together, the three exhibitions provide rare insight into one of the 20th century's most accomplished, if enigmatic, female modernists, an artist who linked the cerebral gravitas of abstract expressionism with the sensuality of the School of Paris. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Joan Mitchell in New Orleans: Paintings and Works on Paper

Through June

New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;

Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328;

Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3805;

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