Willem de Kooning, Excavation (1950), oil on canvas, 81″ x 100-1/4″; courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago
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De Kooning: A Retrospective is a sad experience not least because its trajectory is clear, cruel and swift.
No, I’m not talking about the awful inevitability of the “Alzheimer’s Pictures”: those pallid rehashes of de Kooning’s glory phase (see photo above) orchestrated by his dealer Xavier Fourcade, his estranged wife Elaine de Kooning and myriad assistants–by everyone, in fact, but the artist himself.
Rather, it’s the promising, at moments thrilling and ultimately deflating story of a draftsman possessed of angelic gifts whose knack for color existed only when he excised it altogether and whose signature, whiplash touch deteriorated into a splashy, frustrated mannerism. The Woman paintings–they were infamous in bygone feminist days; can they be “famous” in our post-everything age?–are especially desperate. They come off as one compulsive’s quest for a resolution that was never forthcoming. Perfectionism is, by definition, an impossible pursuit.
At the Times, ever brainy Holland Cotter discerns a link between de Kooning and “the single most influential art movement of the 20th century”, Conceptualism. Go figure.
© 2011 Mario Naves