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Jane Freilicher calls forth a particular gratitude in heartbreak. As in, what a lucky life to move besides so much of what is beautiful and true; to fuel response and maybe to be adored, and yet also (because muses are rarely idiots) to know the difference. After all, the muses since antiquity, their names and recognized talents and even their number, have come from the writings of men. To muse rather than to be one, to see rather than to be seen: this is what a new show of never-before-exhibited nudes gives to the late painter.
Among the so-called New York School, which includes John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, Freilicher was “the poets’ muse of adoration,” as noted in The Last Avant-Garde. O’Hara’s “Jane” poems are about her: “What a hot day it is! For / Jane and me above the scorch / of sun on jungle waters.” James Schuyler, too: “Jane, among fresh lilacs in her room, watched / December, in brown with furs, turn on lights / until the city trembled like a tree / in which wind moves. And it was all for her.” There’s a short play the whole crew filmed one summer, in which Jane walks on water.
I don’t mean to say that there’s no effort in generating warmth, or in encouragement and friendship, only that among her lifelong friends, perhaps Ashbery wrote it best, after all. He wrote about the paintings, that is, the work of “probably my favorite person in the world.” He wrote about Jane as someone who brought forth the life itself, and was given the room that non-muses are given, to bestow their own generosity of perception: “Obviously, she paints what she sees, but it happens that she sees a lot,” he wrote in Art in America in 1975, of the self-assured paintings, so caught by their own attentions. “Creation—fresh, unassuming, a little awkward still with some of its folds not yet shaken out, is her subject.”
“50s New York,” Freilicher’s first exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, opens April 18, 2018. Images courtesy of the estate of Jane Freilicher and Paul Kasmin Gallery, including Untitled (seated nude with blue robe), 1970; Asleep, 1966; Nude on green blanket, 1967.
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