04 November 2019

Lee Krasner did not only live in Greenwich Village. The New York art scene met here and she visited Hans Hofmann‘s art school. But her experiences weren‘t always positive.

By Natalie Wichmann

After taking pictures on the roof top of 213 W 14th Street, where Lee Krasner and Igor Pantuhoff lived together in the 1930s, I walk down Greenwich Ave to get to my next stop exploring Krasner’s NYC: the Greenwich Village where Lee Krasner spent her formative years.

Greenwich Village, the neighborhood that revolves around Washington Square Park, has been home to the avant-garde since the 1920s, lending a background to cultural, political, and artistic movements like the Beat Generation, the Stonewall Riots, and the NY alternative art scene. Lee Krasner spent her critical years of becoming a professional artist in the Greenwich Village. She went to classes at Hans Hofmann School of Arts, hang out with friends like Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky at the Jumble Shop, and had her very first own studio and apartment there.

First stop on my way through the village is the building where Hans Hofmann moved his School of Arts in 1936. The street – typical for the residential areas of Greenwich with its townhouses, front stoops, and trees lined sidewalks – is kind of quiet. The occasional cab drives by and some students are on their way to NYU (New York University) that had his campus around Washington Square since 1835. 52 W 9th Street is a gorgeous four-story building with some quirky, unlike-its-neighbors features, including a large double door entrance (no stairs!), geometrical picture windows, and a large recessed balcony on the top floor.    

Lee Krasner joined Hans Hofmann’s School of Art in 1937 for roughly three years. Thanks to Lilian Olinsey, Hofmann’s assistant at the time, she started off on a scholarship right away. Some might call Krasner’s time with Hoffmann her formative years, but it wasn’t always a positive experience. On the one hand she learned about cubism and abstract painting, on the other hand she was shocked by his method of intervening with his students work, even destroying part of it to teach a lesson. He did introduce her to the work of Piet Mondrian, though, something she always credited him for.

On my way to 1 Sheridan Square, I walk by The Stonewall Inn, the historical site where the LGBT rights movement in the US was born. The community in Greenwich is a special one for New York, it feels very open minded and authentic with a lot of locals still living here. Though the bohemians had to leave Greenwich a while ago thanks to the ever-evolving rents.

In 1938, Barney Josephson opened Café Society, a night club to promote African American talent. It was one of the first racially integrated night clubs of the US and one of Lee Krasner and Piet Mondrian’s favorite places to listen to some jazz and dance the night away. Mondrian arrived in New York in 1940 after leaving London during the Blitz by ship. He and Krasner met during a reception the AAA (American Abstract Artists) held in his honor of joining the group. And they hit it off right away. He gave her something she had longed for since she started painting: he acknowledged her talent and told her so.

I loop up through 6th Avenue to get back to 8th Street that runs parallel to Washington Square Park and has adjusted to the needs of students today with tons of small cafes, fast food, UPS stations, and “goods for the study” places. Going from West to East, the 5th Ave divides Manhattan in two sides, it’s notably less posh and feels a tad more like a working-class area with high rises and less adorned buildings. When I finally get to 46 E 8th Street, where Jackson Pollock had his studio the year Lee Krasner met him and where she moved in with him a couple years later, it is just an unexciting brick building with a UBreakIFix – one of these places that fix your phone or your laptop – on the ground floor. Nothing hints to the almost earth-shattering relationship that started right here so many years ago.