13 April 2011

Punters pant for MoMA's De Kooning retro

NEED an excuse to visit New York this year? Look no further than the eagerly-awaited Willem De Kooning (1904-97) retrospective at MoMA opening in this September. Incredibly, this is the first major museum exhibition to encompass the full scope of De Kooning’s sixty year career, bringing together more than 200 works from public and private collections, starting with early academic works made in his native Holland in the early 1920s, to his final abstract paintings of the late 1980s painted in his East Hamptons studio.
Interspersed are works from the artist’s most famous periods, such as Pink Angels (1945), Excavation (1950), and the celebrated third Woman series (1950–53). All the artist’s most important series are represented, from the figurative paintings of the early 1940s to the breakthrough black-and-white compositions of 1948–49, and from the urban abstractions of the mid 1950s to the artist’s return to figuration in the 1960s, and the large gestural abstractions of the following decade. A delicious curio is de Kooning’s famous yet largely unseen theatrical backdrop, the 17-foot-square Labyrinth (1946). Curator John Elderfield, who retired as MoMA Chief Curator in 2008, nominated this coming show as among the top three in his momentous 30-year career at MoMA. Elderfield has assembled a show representing nearly every type of work by De Kooning, in both technique and topic, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints. “He’s someone whose work I’ve loved forever,” says Elderfield, a British subject. “It was actually one of the things that brought me to the U.S. in the first place.” Best known for leading the vanguard of Abstract Expressionism, De Kooning’s works since his death have skyrocketed in value, with his “Woman III” currently listed as the second most expensive work of all time, being sold by entertainment mogul David Geffen for US$137.5 million in 2006. The retrospective will take up the entire 17,000 square feet sixth floor gallery at MoMA, and stay on show until January 2012, then to be dissembled and not shown anywhere else. – MICHAEL HUTAK

First published in Australian Art Collector

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