Willem de Kooning

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Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning in his studio.jpg
Willem de Kooning, c. 1961
Born (1904-04-24)April 24, 1904
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Died March 19, 1997(1997-03-19) (aged 92)
Long Island, New York United States
Nationality Dutch, American
Known for Abstract expressionism
Notable work(s) Woman I, Easter Monday, Attic, Excavation
Awards Praemium Imperiale
National Medal of Arts (1986)
Willem de Kooning, Woman V (1952–53), National Gallery of Australia

Willem de Kooning (April 24, 1904 – March 19, 1997) was a Dutch American abstract expressionist artist who was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

In the post-World War II era, de Kooning painted in a style that came to be referred to as Abstract expressionism or Action painting, and was part of a group of artists that came to be known as the New York School. Other painters in this group included Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Adolph Gottlieb, Anne Ryan, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Clyfford Still, and Richard Pousette-Dart.

Biography[edit]

Willem de Kooning was born April 24, 1904, in the working class district of Rotterdam-Noord (North Rotterdam) to parents Leendert de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel.[1] His parents divorced on January 7, 1907, and de Kooning lived with his mother .[2] His early artistic training included eight years at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques.[3] In the 1920s he worked as an assistant to the art director of a Rotterdam department store.[4] He moved to the USA as a stowaway in 1926 aboard the British freighter SS Shelley.[5] De Kooning was one of the thirty-eight artists chosen from a general invitation to New York City metropolitan artists to design and paint the 105 public murals at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.[6] His fellow muralist, David Margolis later recounted their 1932 trips to the Savoy Ballroom and de Kooning's "keen interest in jazz."[7]

In 1938, probably under the influence of Arshile Gorky, de Kooning embarked on a series of male figures, including Two Men Standing, Man, and Seated Figure (Classic Male), while simultaneously embarking on a more purist series of lyrically colored abstractions, such as Pink Landscape and Elegy. As his work progressed, the heightened colors and elegant lines of the abstractions began to creep into the more figurative works, and the coincidence of figures and abstractions continued well into the 1940s. This period includes the representational but somewhat geometricized Woman and Standing Man, along with numerous untitled abstractions whose biomorphic forms increasingly suggest the presence of figures. By about 1945 the two tendencies seemed to fuse perfectly in Pink Angels.

In 1938, de Kooning met Elaine Marie Fried, later known as Elaine de Kooning, whom he married in 1943. She also became a significant artist. During the 1940s, he became increasingly identified with the Abstract Expressionist movement and was recognized as one of its leaders into the mid-1950s, while notoriously stating: "It is disastrous to name ourselves."[4] In 1948, de Kooning had his first one-man show, which consisted of his black-and-white enamel compositions, at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York. He taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina in 1948 and at the Yale School of Art in 1950/51. In 1950, de Kooning was one of 17 prominent Abstract Expressionists and avant-garde artists to sign an open letter to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art accusing it of hostility towards “advanced art.”[8]

In 1959, de Kooning bought five acres of land off Springs’ Fireplace Road in East Hampton from the photographer and sculptor Wilfrid Zogbaum and began construction on what was then considered the largest artist’s studio built in the Hamptons.[9]

Mature works[edit]

In 1946, too poor to buy artists' pigments, he turned to black and white household enamels to paint a series of large abstractions; of these works, Light in August (c. 1946) and Black Friday (1948) are essentially black with white elements, whereas Zurich (1947) and Mailbox (1947/48) are white with black. Developing out of these works in the period after his first show were complex, agitated abstractions such as Asheville (1948/49), Attic (1949), and Excavation (1950; Art Institute of Chicago), which reintroduced color and seem to sum up with taut decisiveness the problems of free-associative composition he had struggled with for many years.

The hallmark of de Kooning's style was an emphasis on complex figure ground ambiguity. Background figures would overlap other figures causing them to appear in the foreground, which in turn might be overlapped by dripping lines of paint thus positioning the area into the background.

De Kooning had painted women regularly in the early 1940s and again from 1947 to 1949. The biomorphic shapes of his early abstractions were derived from objects found in the studio. But it was not until 1950 that he began to explore the subject of women exclusively. In the summer of that year he began Woman I (located at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City), which went through innumerable metamorphoses before it was finished in 1952.

Woman III, (1953), private collection

During this period he also created other paintings of women. These works were shown at the Sidney Janis Gallery in 1953 and caused a sensation, partially because they were figurative when most of his fellow Abstract Expressionists were painting abstractly, but also because of their blatant imagery. Aggressive brushwork and strategically placed high-key colors in these paintings merged with images of toothy snarls, overripe, pendulous breasts, enlarged eyes and blasted extremities to reveal a woman seemingly congruent with some of modern man's most widely held sexual fears. Some of these paintings also appeared to reference early Mesopotamian / Akkadian works, with the large eyes and squarely chiseled bodies.

The Woman paintings II through VI (1952–53) are all variants on this theme, as are Woman and Bicycle (1953; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and Two Women in the Country (1954). The deliberate vulgarity of these paintings contrasts with the French painter Jean Dubuffet's Corps de Dame series of 1950, in which iconic female/goddess imagery was created with a topography of earth colours, and are generally perceived as less provocative.

Willem de Kooning (1968)

From the late 1950s to the early 1960s, De Kooning entered a new phase of nearly pure abstractions more related to landscape than to the human figure. These paintings, such as Bolton Landing (1957) and Door to the River (1960), bear broad brushstrokes and calligraphic tendencies similar to works of his contemporary Franz Kline.

In 1963, De Kooning moved permanently to East Hampton, Long Island,[11] and returned to depicting women while also referencing the landscape in such paintings as Woman, Sag harbor and Clam Diggers. In June 1968 Willem went to Rome on holiday and ran into an old friend Herzl Emanuel while staying with Emmanuel he excitedly began to produce a series of thirteen small clay sculptures in the style of his women series of paintings. After returning to the US he commissioned David Christian to enlarge and cast them in bronze.[12]

De Kooning as sculptor: Seated Woman on a Bench, bronze of 1972 (cast 1976), in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

De Kooning was highly prolific during the 1980s, painting more than 300 canvases.[13] During his later years, his health began to fail; by 1987 he began showing signs of dementia and was diagnosed with the probability of suffering from Alzheimer's disease.[4] After his wife Elaine died on February 1, 1989, his daughter, Lisa (Johanna Liesbeth de Kooning 1956-2012), and his lawyers, Lee and John Eastman were granted guardianship over De Kooning.[4]

There is much debate over the significance of his 1980s paintings, which became clean, sparse, and almost graphic, while alluding to the biomorphic lines of his early works. Some have said that his very last works present a new direction of compositional complexity and color juxtaposition, and are prophetic of directions that some current painters continue to pursue. Some speculate that his mental condition and years of alcoholism had rendered him unable to carry out the mastery indicated in his early works. Others claim some of these paintings were removed from the studio and exhibited before de Kooning was finished with them. Unfortunately, de Kooning's last works have not been afforded the amount of critical commentary or substantial serious assessment that his earlier works received.[14]

Exhibitions[edit]

De Kooning's first solo show took place at the Charles Egan Gallery, New York, in 1948. His work has since been the subject of numerous museum retrospectives, including the Museum of Modern Art (1968, 2011–12), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1983), and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1994).

In 1974 the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, organized a show of De Kooning's drawings and sculpture that traveled throughout the United States.[15] In 1982 and 1987, the C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore, Maryland organized exhibitions of his works from the 1970s, which Tom Weisser of the City Paper deemed, "de Kooning at his most accessible." 1995, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art organized the first major exhibition of paintings from the eighties, which traveled to international venues. Recent exhibitions of the 1980s works include "Willem de Kooning: Late Paintings", which opened at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2006 and traveled to the Museo Carlo Bilotti, Rome.[16]

In September 2011 de Kooning's work was honored with a large-scale retrospective exhibition: de Kooning: A Retrospective September 18, 2011 – January 9, 2012 at MoMA in New York City. Organized by John Elderfield it was the first major museum exhibition devoted to the full breadth and depth of de Kooning's career, containing nearly 200 works.

Recognition[edit]

On September 14, 1964, De Kooning was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson. In 1986, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1979, he and Eduardo Chillida received the Andrew W. Mellon Prize, which was accompanied by an exhibition at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.[15]

Art market[edit]

As the style of his later works continued to evolve into early 1989, his vintage works drew increasing profits; at Sotheby's auctions Pink Lady (1944) sold for US$3.6 million in 1987 and Interchange (1955) was bought for $20.6 million in 1989. In November 2006, Kooning's Woman III was sold by David Geffen to Steven A. Cohen for $137.5 million, making it the second most expensive painting ever sold at that time.

At a 2014 Christie's auction in New York, Clamdigger (1972), a rare bronze sculpture of an edition of seven, was sold by the De Kooning family for $29.2 million, an auction record for a sculpture by the artist.[17]

Estate[edit]

Since 1989, De Kooning's oeuvre was controlled primarily by sculptor Lisa de Kooning, his only child; their attorney, John Eastman, the son of de Kooning’s longtime attorney Lee Eastman; and John Silberman, an attorney who represented Lisa and Eastman in their court application to be appointed as de Kooning’s conservators and later represented his estate. De Kooning's art collection was then valued at $50 million to $150 million.[18] By 1996, Lisa de Kooning and Eastman decided to put the work into a trust for the artist's benefit that would become a foundation after his death.[19] After de Kooning’s death, Lisa and Eastman became co-executors of his estate, and, in an effort to protect the market for his work, they won a court order to seal details about the estate’s contents. They directed the dispersal of works in de Kooning’s possession at the time of his death and created the Willem de Kooning Foundation, which was established in 2001 and received a portion of the collection not sold or kept by Lisa De Kooning.[20] The estate does have a small portion of art from the 1970s, but most of its work is from the 1980s.[19] In the years following its establishment, the foundation sold 18 works for a total of $13 million with the goal of funding its mission to catalogue and maintain its own collection and archive and facilitate museum exhibitions and scholarly research.[20] In 2013, to raise more than $30 million for an endowment that would support scholarly and educational initiatives, the foundation decided to sell 10 paintings from the 1983 to 1985 at Gagosian Gallery.[13]

In 2010, the Pace Gallery was given the rights to the estate of Willem de Kooning. The estate had previously been handled by the Gagosian Gallery,[21] as well as by Matthew Marks, Lucy Mitchell-Innes and Anthony d'Offay.[22]

Individual works[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, "de Kooning: An American Master",2004, Knopf, Borzoi Books, p.4. ISBN 1-4000-4175-9
  2. ^ Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, "de Kooning: An American Master",2004, Knopf, Borzoi Books, p.10 ISBN 1-4000-4175-9
  3. ^ Marcia Brennan, Modernism's Masculine Subjects: Matisse, the New York School, and Post-Painterly Abstraction, MIT Press, p. 71. ISBN 0-262-02571-X
  4. ^ a b c d Barbara Hess, Willem de Kooning 1904–1997: Content as a Glimpse, Taschen, 2004, p87. ISBN 3-8228-2135-7
  5. ^ Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, "de Kooning: An American Master",2004, Knopf, Borzoi Books, p.57 ISBN 1-4000-4175-9
  6. ^ Monaghan, Frank, ed. (1939). Official Guide Book of the New York World's Fair 1939. New York: Exposition Publications, Inc. pp. 30–31. 
  7. ^ "Abstract Expressionism 1932". 1932: Willem de Kooning and Nini move to Greenwich Village. Warholstars.org. Retrieved December 27, 2011. 
  8. ^ Grimes, William (April 11, 2011). "Hedda Sterne, an Artist of Many Styles, Dies at 100". New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2011. 
  9. ^ Bob Colacello (January 2000), Studios by the Sea Vanity Fair.
  10. ^ Abstract Expressionism, by Barbara Hess (Taschen, 2005), p. 15.
  11. ^ Willem de Kooning at Encyclopædia Britannica
  12. ^ Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, "de Kooning: An American Master",2004, Knopf, Borzoi Books, p.524-529 ISBN 1-4000-4175-9
  13. ^ a b Carol Vogel (September 2, 2013), 10 Late de Kooning Works to Go on View, and on Sale New York Times.
  14. ^ Perl, Jed (November 3, 2011). "The Abstract Imperfect". The New Republic. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Willem De Kooning Guggenheim Collection.
  16. ^ Willem de Kooning: The Last Beginning, September 18 – October 27, 2007 Gagosian Gallery, New York.
  17. ^ James Tarmy (November 13, 2014), Christie’s Smashes Record With $852.9 Million N.Y. Sale Bloomberg.
  18. ^ Andrew L. Yarrow (August 19, 1989), Conservators Named for de Kooning Assets New York Times.
  19. ^ a b Carol Vogel (October 6, 1997), De Kooning Intrigues Live On New York Times.
  20. ^ a b Kelly Devine Thomas (September 8, 2011), Shaping de Kooning’s Legacy ARTnews.
  21. ^ Carol Vogel (September 30, 2010), Pace Gallery to Represent De Kooning Estate New York Times.
  22. ^ Laura Stewart (April 12, 1997), What price Willem de Kooning? The Daily Telegraph.

References[edit]

External links[edit]