If ever there were a list for immigration, poster boy Willem de Kooning could be an honorable mention. He didn't immigrate as an established artist, as many Europeans did, fleeing World War II. He came in 1926, with a student's academic portfolio -- a good one -- in search of the long-legged American women he had been lusting for in the Netherlands. Those same caricatures that would later play such a powerful role in his most important paintings.
The Museum of Modern Art's new exhibit de Kooning: A Retrospective brings together an amazing collection of some 200 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculpture from 100 private and museum collections, tracing seven decades up to his last paintings of the late 1980s. It's a masterful feat of scouring and culling by curator John Elderfield and his team. Some desired works were too fragile to loan: one from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art was too good to travel -- true story.
When we think of de Kooning and the image of the hard-drinking womanizer, he is part of a gang of guys associated with the New York School, which includes the serial womanizer Jackson Pollack -- the original mad men of the art world. Not like Picasso's embrace of women -- literally, as he would anything with a pulse -- de Kooning's depictions showed vulnerability, fear, mistrust; sexual confusion? I think so. I won't linger here as there are far more gifted interpreters than I here and here.
This is one of those must-see exhibits that will only be seen at MoMA. It's filled with rarely seen gems and, what's best for me, the drawings -- amazing drawings. Through de Kooning's drawings we get to see the master at work, always searching, always experimenting, never afraid of change; the immigrant's experience.
More images from the exhibit on my flickr. This Carol Vogel piece in the NY Times discusses the influences of the era on the artist. The black and white series may have a Casper the Friendly Ghost connection.