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Lee Krasner and her nephew Ronald Stein were commissioned to create their collaborative mosaic Mural (1959) for the Uris Building at 2 Broadway in 1958. The frieze-like mural stretches across the building’s front façade at 12 ½ feet tall and 86 feet long, while a 15 foot x 15 foot accompanying piece is visible above the building’s Broad Street entrance as well. Created just a few years after the death of Krasner’s husband Jackson Pollock, the all-over abstraction of the work visually resonates with the prevailing (albeit waning) interest in Abstract Expressionism at the time. The overlaid shapes and composition of Mural also reflect the influence of Henri Matisse’s late color cut-outs on Krasner’s practice. As Krasner’s only large-scale work, Mural provided an opportunity for her to enlarge the abstract visual language of her well-regarded paintings into monumental form.
The subtle design of Mural fades into the background of the busy Broadway location, yet its swirling color palette of red, blue, black and green handcrafted from broken Venetian glass enamel forms a charming entrance to the building. Krasner and Stein requested that the enamel be set with dark cement, which merged the mural’s foreground and background to blackened effect. The artists had hoped to participate in the execution of the mosaic elements, but union regulations disallowed them from doing so. Instead, mosaicists created the work from preliminary sketches and full-size mock-ups rendered by Krasner and Stein. In part to, as Krasner put it, “bring the mosaic technique into today… to break the rigidity” of the medium in the past, the artists enlisted the mosaicists to smash larger pieces of glass so that Mural features an array of multiple-sized glass parts.* The result is a mosaic whose differently sized pieces glint and glare in the light.
Like many artists of her generation, Krasner worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art program, for which she was assigned to the mural division beginning in 1935. Her primary role involved enlarging artists’ sketches into mural-sized artworks. The best known of Krasner’s WPA projects during this time came in 1938, when she assisted in enlarging a drawing by Leonard Jenkins into a 100-foot History of Navigation mural for a children’s library in Brooklyn. Krasner’s career came full-circle with her Uris building commission, as her experience within the WPA mural division made her particularly well-suited to produce Mural in Lower Manhattan two decades later.
– Alex Fialho
*Ellen G. Landau, A Catalog Raisonné, New York: Abrams, 1995, p. 175.
Photos by Carlos Henriquez
© 2015 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York