de Kooning: A Retrospective

September 18, 2011 – January 9, 2012
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
Phone: 212 708 9400
Admission is free with The New School ID Card

Considered one of the most important artists in the 20th century, Willem de Kooning was prolific. He began creating art from a young age until he physically was not able at the ripe age of ninety (he passed away at ninety-two years of age in 1997), and having been active for over a such an expansive period of time, undertaking a retrospective of his work some might consider an endeavor too challenging to pull off. However, the Museum of Modern Art succeeds in creating a rich and all-encompassing show, one which is so immense that it inhabits the whole sixth floor of the museum, leaving this viewer perhaps a little exhausted but certainly exhilarated and inspired.

Splitting the retrospective into seven eras through seven galleries, the MoMA displays a range of de Kooning’s works that span the years between 1916 and 1987, and the earliest pieces in the show consist of two still lifes. Born in 1904 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, de Kooning was only a boy of twelve years when he painted Still Life (1916/17), a simple study of a teacup and teapot upon a table.

From there, the show jumps to the 1920s — de Kooning moved to New York in 1926, finding influence from the contemporaries of the period such as Mondrian and Picasso. A stark contrast from his still life studies from his formative years, the paintings from this period exhibit flat shapes with clear blocks of color along with visible lines and abstract biomorphic forms, which is sometimes playful as seen in Father, Mother, Sister, Brother (1937). Through the 1940s and further, de Kooning continues to explore the human form, but more important, his own aesthetic style–finding a harmonious intersection between shape and color, texture and volume–a style which becomes clear in the 1950s, especially with his Woman series.

De Kooning’s Woman series is perhaps the most special gallery as it exhibits a full range of skill and purposefulness that makes a de Kooning work unique. Approaching each study differently–from strong gestural figures with distinct lines to abstracted shape via only color and structural context–the unmistakable form of an upright woman (or two) manifests through de Kooning’s intended resolution to each study.

Other standout pieces include Excavation (1950), the largest canvas in the exhibit, a painting that has an accordant rhythm of dark lines and sparse color and Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point (1963), a beautiful interpretation of color of the sun rising. Also a lithograph, Wah Kee Spare Ribs (1970), which is a departure from de Kooning’s filled canvases as a result of influence from spending time in Japan, is a poetic and minimal piece, yet keeps true to de Kooning’s fluid style of line and form.

-Janet Kim


Willem de Kooning (American, born the Netherlands. 1904-1997)

*Woman, I*, 1950-52

Oil, enamel and charcoal on canvas

6′ 3 7/8″ x 58″ (192.7 x 147.3 cm)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase.

© 2011 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New





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