Sunday, November 27, 2011

de Kooning: a Retrospective

Remember when  I wrote that the Diebenkorn book was perhaps the best exhibit catalog I'd ever seen? Well, de Kooning: a Retrospective, the catalog accompanying the MoMA's exhibit of de Kooning's work, might have topped it.

It should come as no surprise that a retrospective would be encyclopedic and this volume is. It starts with a great essay on de Kooning's life and work that my art pea-brain could appreciate but not fully comprehend. That's followed by a chronological  progression through the various periods of de Kooning's work including timelines and, of course, plates of the artwork.

What I found most intriguing were brief Methods and Materials articles about how particular paintings were made including cross sections of paint layers, x-rays, and forensic analysis of how paint was applied.

I won't bore you with the details. For my friends who think abstract art is simply a spontaneous eruption of paint, there is an interesting pencil study of a particular painting that demonstrates the forethought that de Kooning put into his work.

I will share two works from the book that really caught my attention. The first isn't even a work on canvas. Woman 1951 is charcoal and pastel on paper. I just found it arresting. In case you're interested, it seems this 21.5 in. x 16 in. drawing sold for about $4 million in 2008.

de Kooning, Woman, 1951
The second was the black and white Painting 1948 which reminded me of Callum Innes' work in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. (The similarities are more in technique and palette than composition.) Painting is the subject of one of the book's Methods and Materials sections that describes the limits of de Kooning's budget at the time limiting him to a bucket of black enamel and a bucket of white. The painterly description of Painting delves more into the "sum of resistances" and how the paint was applied and removed.

de Kooning, Painting, 1948

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