The Complete Picture: Willem de Kooning at MoMA

I went to the Willem de Kooning retrospective at MoMA on Saturday: WOW! It’s enormous, comprehensive, and magisterial. I thought I had a decent handle on de Kooning’s work, but I found the show enlightening. It starts with some work he did when he was 12 years old in Holland, before he moved to the United States, and then progresses chronologically through his extraordinarily varied career all the way to his last paintings, made in the 1980s when he was suffering from dementia. I now have a much richer understanding of those late works: The images are open and bright and upbeat but with voids that I read as being like the gaps that were appearing in his evaporating memory. MoMA has published a first-rate book to accompany the exhibition, de Kooning: A Retrospective, by John Elderfield, the museum’s chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture.

Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning (1904–1997)

Still Life (Bowl, Pitcher and Jug), c 1921, Willem de Kooning

Still Life (Bowl, Pitcher and Jug), c 1921

Untitled (Man and Woman), 1947-48, Willem de Kooning

Untitled (Man and Woman), 1947-48

Rider (UntitledVII), 1985, Willem de Kooning

Rider (Untitled VII), 1985