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Small's Paradise

1964 Helen Frankenthaler Born: New York, New York 1928 Died: Darien, Connecticut 2011 acrylic on canvas 100 x 93 5/8 in. (254.0 x 237.7 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of George L. Erion 1967.121 Smithsonian American Art Museum
3rd Floor, North Wing

Gallery Label

Small's Paradise was a New York City juke joint that featured "gut-bucket" music, dancing waiters, and Monday morning breakfast dances. Also known as "Harlem's House of Mirth and Music," the club played host to poets, artists, athletes, and entertainers from the 1920s until the late 1950s.

Frankenthaler's breakthrough as an abstract painter came when she discovered that paint thinned with turpentine and poured on raw canvas provided rich colors and random forms. She titled her works according to the images that seemed "to come out of the pictures." When a shape that struck her as "Persian" emerged on the canvas, Frankenthaler apparently thought of the word "paradise," invented by the Persians to describe a wall around a garden. She had been to Small's Paradise not long before, and when she put the associations together, the painting became an emblem of a particular moment in her life.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006




paint - acrylic

fabric - canvas