Whitehot Magazine

September 2007, Willem De Kooning @ Gagosian Gallery

September 2007, Willem De Kooning @ Gagosian Gallery
De Kooning at Work

Willem de Kooning:

The Last Beginning

Gagosian Gallery

curated by Klaus Kertess in

cooperation with the Johanna Liesbeth

de Kooning Trust


 The de Kooning installation at Gagosian reflects the mastery and unerring spirit of the aging abstract expressionist. With an innate grasp of spacial techniques the large light and colorfield paintings challenge the cutting edge interior of Gagosian’s West 21st Street space. A real New Yorker, born in Rotterdam, the in 1904, de Kooning emigrated here in 1926. Activated by the modern art scene in Europe, his sense was not of particular paintings, but rather, of the art revolution. 

 The Abstract Expressionist movement certainly paid homage to the Dutch Masters’ Calvinist simplicity. The cobalt blue and red madder delineations seem like cartoons in comparison with the ultramarine violet, cadmium green light and jaune brilliant of the painting, “Untitled,” 1980 (70" x 80"), the only painting displayed in the small adjacent room.

 The elder, De Kooning’s selfless irony of overall coverage, it was whispered to me, as a young apprentice, that he used mayonnaise as a medium to push through the massive strokes of paint! In the 8,000 square foot gallery, the scattered small de Kooning’s such as “Fire Island,” created in 1946, Oil on Paper (19 ½" x 26 ½") tug against the last and more linear paintings setting the color wheel in motion.

 The exhibition in this magnificent, minimalist dream of a gallery takes hold as an installation which bespeaks greatness and humility of heart. This trait separates out the Abstract Expressionists as New York’s Arthurian Knights. We must never forget that for a brief moment in history, New York became humanity’s corner. It cast a shaft of light before the McCarthy era draped a demonic veil of lies over America . This sliver of light was captured in Abstract Expressionism.

 The great art patroness, Peggy Guggenheim along with her curators, the visionary painter, John Graham from Poland & Russia as well as Marcel Duchamp from the new wave in France industriously created the Permanent Collection and housed it in the Guggenheim Museum on 88th Street and Fifth Avenue.

 It is hard for me to imagine how people can go to a Willem de Kooning show and be critical of his work. Yet art students and critics will wander around and choose which of his $25 million dollar paintings or which aren’t quite as good. Flesh, Cadmium Green, Orange, Vermillion, Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine cast the giant strokes up against White.

 Adam Tyson, a sensitive, young painter who attended the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA loved the Vermillion, Jaune Brilliant, Flake White, and Cadmium Green Light colour on the left side. The Ultramarine Purple turned into a Burnt Sienna as it passed through the Yellow. The drop dead gorgeous actor, Armand Assante stood 6 feet tall amidst Gagosian’s expansive gallery, its creamy, white palatial square with a small adjacent room. Elegant art students surrounded him. 

 Ealan Wingate, Gagosian’s Director from 24th Street was explaining the fine tuning of Gagosian’s curatorial philosophy. I wondered if Armand Assante planned to play de Kooning in an upcoming film? It is always the case that these artists become dwarfed shadows of the greatness that pours out from their tortured souls. We can only thank him for bringing his work into our lives here in New York.


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Claudia Schwalb

Schwalb graduated from Pratt Institute in 1974.  She was an emerging artist during the Minimalist movement in the 1970's.  She was raised in New York City during the Abstract Expressionist era. Claudia was the youngest artist ever to have a solo exhibition at The Clocktower/P.S.1 in 1977.  Claudia went on to write for Barbara Rose's Journal of Art and was one of the Contributing Editors of Cover/Arts New York along with John Yau and Judd Tully (Editor-at-Large for Arts & Auction).  She was Curator of the Knitting Factory and a television news transcriber for Peter Jennings' World News Tonight.  Subsequently, Claudia transcribed two movies, "Refuge" and "Interview with the Dalai Lama" which played at the Quad last year.  claudschwa@aol.com

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