Willem de Kooning: Late Paintings
3 October – November 2017
8 Bennet St
Skarstedt has just announced an exhibition of Willem de Kooning’s late paintings at the London gallery in October 2017. Coinciding with Frieze Masters, the exhibition will include exceptional paintings created in the 1980s, during the last decade of de Kooning’s 60 year career. This will be the first opportunity to see this body of work in the UK since the solo exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1994, which included paintings from 1938 to 1986.
Characterised by their luminosity and the fluidity of their arcing lines, the bright translucent colours of the 1980s works mark a radical departure from the heavy painterliness of earlier periods. Demonstrating de Kooning’s capacity for renewal, this final chapter in his long painterly career was one of his most productive and as the works themselves reveal, one of his most accomplished. As Peter Schjeldahl noted on reviewing an exhibition of paintings from 1981-1982 at the Fourcade Gallery, New York:
‘Unlike other recent de Koonings, these don’t appear caught in the act of tearing themselves apart… Aging has touched his art with, if anything, even greater audacity and more resonant defiance, giving new edges to a mastery of painting’s resources that remains a wonder of the world.’ P. Schjeldahl, ‘Delights by de Kooning’ in The Village Voice, April 13, 1982.
Stripped back, the smooth surfaces of the paintings are glazed with ribbons of primary colours against a pale backdrop of varied whites. Known as the “White Paintings“ the fragmented abstract shapes delineated by the dominant reds, blues and yellows, are suggestive of an elusive figuration and landscape, referring back to de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionist works of the 1940s through to the 60s. Using earlier drawings which were blown up and projected onto the canvas, de Kooning traced their outlines, sometimes turning the sheet upside down to instil an element of surprise into the composition. Subsuming his drawings into the activity of painting, the works are characterised by their calligraphic quality.
Firmly believing that “I have to change to stay the same”, de Kooning’s redirection at the age of 75 challenged the conventions of painting anew and reinvigorated his work. Reflecting the influence of Matisse’s cut-outs and the harmonious rhythm of The Dance, the paintings of the 1980s are youthful and vibrant. Capturing the essence of de Kooning’s lifetime of experimentation, these paintings bear testament to his enduring mastery and his continued inspiration on generations of painters who followed.
The first major exhibition of the late paintings was organised by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1995 and travelled to international museums including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Stadtisches Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. An exhibition of the 1980s paintings was held at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in 2006 and travelled to the Carlo Bilotti Museum, Rome. More recently Gagosian Gallery, New York staged a dedicated exhibition of ten paintings from 1983 – 1985 in 2013.
Focusing on Contemporary European and American artists of the late Twentieth Century, Skarstedt is committed to mounting historical exhibitions of museum quality. This will be the gallery’s second de Kooning exhibition, following its show of sculptures from 1972 -1974 in New York in 2015.
Located at 8 Bennet Street, Skarstedt inaugurated its new London gallery in October 2016 with an exhibition of Cindy Sherman’s History Portraits (1988 – 1990) and David Salle’s Tapestry Paintings (1989 – 1991). Designed by Thomas Croft Architects, the gallery benefits from 5,000 square feet in the historic quarter of St. James’s.