I have always loved Frankenthaler’s delicate yet festive art, and when I started collecting fine-art prints in 2003, I knew I wanted to own something by her. She was a prolific, committed, and famously accomplished printmaker, so I did quite a bit of looking and thinking before settling on Grey Fireworks, which was still comparatively new when I bought it. Published by the Lincoln Center/List Poster and Print Program in a pencil-signed sixty-three-color limited edition of 108 copies, it is based, like many other notabe prints, on a preexisting painting of the same name that dates from 1982. According to Frankenthaler, she called it Grey Fireworks because it is “explosive. It’s not gray dismal—it’s gray celebrative.”
The painting, which is privately owned, has been exhibited more than once, most notably as part of a 1989 retrospective of Frankenthaler’s work jointly mounted by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. This excerpt from E.A. Carmean, Jr.’s catalogue entry, which is based on an interview with the artist, describes it nicely:
Grey Fireworks began with a solidly colored surface, here a rich blue gray. Color washes of darker tones were then added, giving the picture its “real construction.” These were followed by the “clumps” of pink and white, distinct shapes set apart from the more diaphanous field, “accents in the shadowy ground,” as Frankenthaler calls them. “I was choosing what seemed like every conceivable color accent to play against gray. But it was important to place specific colors in exact positions to make it all successful.
Grey Fireworks was simultaneously published as a limited-edition print and as a poster. According to the dealer from which I bought it in 2004 at a startlingly reasonable price:
Frankenthaler has done six screenprints for Lincoln Center, all large and all initially offered well below the market price for such a large piece. Each exists as both a signed and numbered Frankenthaler print without text and as an edition produced from the same screens as the hand-signed one on paper with a printed text to be used as a poster by Lincoln Center and to be sold (in an edition of about 500 impressions) for those who cannot purchase the signed and numbered edition. Each is based upon a painting Frankenthaler executed at about the same time and each is produced under her supervision and hand-signed by her. Frankenthaler’s 2000 screenprint for Lincoln Center, Grey Fireworks, produced a near-riot among Lincoln Center’s dealer network, with over eighty dealers left frustrated and printless.
Grey Fireworks hung above and directly behind the couch in the living room of the Upper West Side apartment that Mrs. T and I shared during the first years of our marriage. It was the only space in our tiny two-room home that was big enough to hold it, but it meant that I couldn’t see it while sitting on the couch, which was where I spent most of my time when not at my desk.
When we first saw the much bigger uptown apartment to which we moved in 2010 in preparation for her transplant, I opened the door, took one look inside, and said to Mrs. T, “I think we should hang the Frankenthaler right here—we’ll finally be able to see it from the couch.” So we did, and now I look at it with undiminished delight dozens of times each day. I don’t know whether it’s the piece in the Teachout Museum that I love best, but I think it might just be the one that I’m proudest to own, and Mrs. T feels the same way. We are privileged to live with it.