This week at The L Magazine I discuss the de Kooning retrospective at The MoMA. Unlike seemingly everyone else, I didn’t love the exhibition. An excerpt below
As the show traces the progression from de Kooning’s early career to late paintings made during his struggle with Alzheimer’s, the stylistic connections between different parts of his career become clear. “Untitled,” an abstract watercolor from 1936, appears overly cautious; in his Abstract Expressionist paintings of women in the 50s, though, we see that caution give way to ambition. The same sinuous lines, deliberate and precise, appear in each, though in the later works they are transformed into that famous violence, palpable and suddenly omnipresent, against the female form.
That continuity of gesture is critical to understanding de Kooning’s oeuvre, and it demonstrates a flaw in the dominant historical narrative of Abstract Expressionism. De Kooning’s work is too often described as giving physical form, through gesture and scale, to the aggression and power of male-dominated painting in the 50s. A studied examination of many of his better known figurative paintings from the 40s and 50s, though, shows that the way he applied paint to the canvas was careful and even delicate, and certainly anything but savage.
To read the full piece click here.