Postwar and Contemporary
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Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011),
Monoscape , 1969
acrylic on canvas, 104 ¾ x 124 1/8 in.; 266.07 x 315.28 cm
Museum purchase with funds from National Endowment for the Arts Museum Purchase Plan Grant and matching funds from Joslyn Women's Association, 1978.74
Through exhibitions, permanent collection acquisitions, and programming, Joslyn is working to elevate and amplify perspectives that historically have been underrepresented in the galleries. The Museum recognizes the potential of interpretation to highlight the diverse histories, beliefs, and practices embodied in works of art. With OMAHA SPEAKS, we look to broaden the conventional interpretation of objects in our permanent collection by introducing commentary from leaders in our community.

Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel, PhD, MPH, Associate Professor, School of Health and Kinesiology, University of Nebraska at Omaha

“You like the colors.” My daughter and I had been enjoying and contemplating Helen Frankenthaler’s Monoscape for a time when I was addressed by the man. “You like the colors,” he repeated when I turned towards him, confused. “Your dress. Your baby’s clothes. You’re wearing the same colors as the painting. You’ve been at this painting for some time. You must like pink and purple quite a bit.”

I do like pink and purple quite a bit. Quite a lot. They were my favorite colors as a little girl. But then I blossomed into a teen feminist and shunned the traditionally femme colors for blacks and dark greens. Strong colors. Masculine colors. That was silly and naïve, of course, to simplify feminism in such a way—to simplify colors in such a way! And yet, even now, I never hesitate to clothe my boys in pink, but I try to avoid it for my daughter.

I do like the pink and purple quite a bit. How deep the colors reach. I could fall into Monoscape. The simultaneous heaviness of the paint and lightness of the painting. The confidence of the sliver of bare canvas at the peak where deep aubergine should have met mauve and rose but doesn’t. The movement in and out of the pools of violet with the abrupt separation of the rich plum.

Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel is an Associate Professor at University of Nebraska at Omaha whose work centers broad philosophical, cultural, and political implications of existing in a gendered and sexist world.

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