Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Encounter like a Flash

TLS November 18 2011

from Patrick McCaughey's review of the De Kooning retrospective at the MoMA:

The most telling example of de Kooning's progress through renunciation comes in the breakthrough years of critical acclaim 1948-53. He held his first one-man show in 1948 at the Charles Egan Gallery, a small and relatively obscure venue in New York, where he showed black-and-white paintings of the past two years. Most of them were just above easel scale, but they radiated an intensity of feeling, lightening white movements rent the unsteady black grounds. They rivalled the masterly, contemporaneous drip paintings of Jackson Pollock. Although they are abstract paintings with only the most fleeting reference to identifiable images--a roof, the letters spelling Orestes--they are burdened with an ominous foreboding. De Kooning prowled Manhattan by night and the black-and-white paintings hint at a city illuminated by erratic flashes of light, felt rather than observed. A famous remark made by him years later that "content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash" applies perfectly to these early masterpieces of Abstract Expressionism....


The ferocity and grotesqueness of the Women of 1950-53 brought its own criticism of the artist. The pictures were seen as a misogynistic attack on women--a complaint that has not entirely died out. The Women retained their transgressive nature. The slashing brushstrokes and the physically violent attack on the surface rendered the image of women as raw, primitive and defiant and it shocked the 1950s. "Beauty becomes petulant to me. I like the grotesque. It's more joyous."The shock remains even as they continue the grand line of Cezanne's "Bathers" to Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Matisse's "Dance."

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