Saturday, October 20, 2007

Willem de Kooning

In my last post, I compared the work of a four-year-old artist to that of the great abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. Please note that I just used the word great. It just struck me that for those who hold up little Marla Olmstead as a genius, how, and on what basis would they evaluate and assess abstract and/or non-objective art? Now if this young girl could paint like oh, say Rembrandt, for example, AND if it could be proven that she actually did the work all by herself, THEN okay, it's a no-brainer: genius.

I have, over the last number of years, been going through a bit of a process of re-evaluating modern art. Why do lovers of modern art well, love modern art? Tom Wolfe provides some excellent insight on this question in his book The Painted Word. I think that oftentimes, people like modern art largely because they have been told (in art history classes, etc.) how great it is, or because they want to be seen as hip. Then again, it seems to me that some of it is pretty damn great.

Although I have been looking at modern art with a more critical eye lately, and finding some of it pretty hard to swallow, there is a lot of it that I still really like. I have been looking at and thinking about de Kooning quite a bit over the last couple of years, and am increasingly fascinated by his work. No, I'm not going to cut loose with a bunch of art-speak about how great de Kooning is; I've just been wanting to show a bit of his work and give him some props, especially after my most recent post.

By the way-- I have been hearing that the recent de Kooning biography (by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan) is really great-- I think I'm going to have to pick up a copy.

Here is my current favorite painting by de Kooning, Excavation. This piece is generally considered to be the culmination of the abstract paintings that he had been working on since the mid-forties. Something is buried under the surface of this painting-- what is it?

Excavation, 1950, 102" x 82" (click on painting to zoom in)

Here is the first of his Woman series. Goddess/bitch/lover/tormenter. Conservative critics derided this painting as grotesque, while the more avant garde critics bemoaned his return to figurative painting and abandonment of pure abstraction.

Woman I, 1952, 58" x 75" (click on painting to zoom in)

I'll admit that I struggle with some of his work...

A Tree in Naples, 1960, 70' x 80"

One of his later works that I especially like...

Untitled V, 1980

Modern art can be challenging and problematic to evaluate, but I find myself to be really drawn to de Kooning's paintings, and I would have to say that yes, he is one of the great artists of the 20th century.


RJ said...

I picked up the de Kooning biography and am about halfway through it. It is giving me a lot more insight about his work, and about the development of modern American painting. Highly recommended!

Kelli said...

Does anyone know where to find a print of Excavation? I am looking for a good quality print to give as a gift.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick revisiting your student work looking for the dante's inferno door you did with your class and came across this. perhaps one of my favorite reads ever. deKooning's biography. hope you are well, and if you get notice that i left this note perhaps you could hook me up with a link to the aforementioned topic of my interest today. loved that the thinker was atop the underworld looking in. Kathy Forrest a FB friend of yours.