Filed under Man About Town

Tom’s Gallery Picks

MAN ABOUT TOWN: November 2011

The winter art season in New York is in full swing, with more interesting exhibitions than any one person can see.  One major blockbuster is the vast survey of the career of William DeKooning at MoMA (through January 9).

de Kooning, Painting, 1948

Beginning with early realist works he made while a youth in Holland, it traces his path through 1930s flayed figures and still lifes, followed by the richly complicated black and white paintings of the post World War II years, to his most famous works, the Women of the mid 1950s, to his powerfully gestural landscapes.

DeKooning famously reworked his paintings constantly, scraping out, painting over, until the final product was a record of his painting processes.  He developed a unique style that combined the spatial ambiguities and geometries of Cubism with the spontaneous organic forms of biomorphic Surrealism. Almost every painting is layered with gestural strokes of paint that question their own power by being overlapped, partially erased, or otherwise canceled, and it takes a lot of time to thoroughly see a single painting, particularly if one also wants to think about the artist’s unusual sense of color.

Willem de Kooning, Woman 1, 1950-52

The popular MoMA exhibition features 200 works spread out over 15,000 square feet.  How to see it all?  A friend of mine has visited the show 4 times and intends to return 4 more; he is a MoMA member so he takes advantage of the member’s privilege of entering the Museum at 9:30, an hour before it officially opens.  That’s one way.

de Kooning, Garden in Delft, 1987

But even spending an hour running through it when it’s crowded will give a strong sense of DeKooning’s amazing career as a painter, leaving one with an experience that is emotional, complex, rewarding, and perhaps unfinished—like his paintings.

In the near vicinity of MoMA there are some wonderful exhibitions that you can see without having to squeeze around someone to look at a painting like at the DeKooning  show.

un effet du japonais, 194

Alexander Calder’s dozen sculptures, mostly mobiles, all from 1941, demonstrate the wonderful lightness and precise whimsy of the inventive sculptor at his best (Pace 32 East 57th, through December 23).

Harvey Quaytman has a richly austere show of abstract paintings at David McKee (745 Fifth Avenue, through December 23). All are composed of rectangular forms in square canvases.  But Quayman, who died in 2002, was inventive with materials and highly sensitive to them.  He will put two whites next to each other and they differ because one has ground glass mixed into the pigment creating a color and texture that subtly contrasts with its neighbor.

These are set against chocolaty brown areas made of iron rust, or deep matte blues and blacks painted over warmer colors that are allowed to sparkle through in tiny highlights.

Bounty, 1989

R.H. Quayman, one of the hottest painters on the art scene today, is his daughter (and a Bard alum), and although her paintings are very different you can see his legacy in her refined shades of white and gray, and her hyper sensitivity to the physical edges of her paintings.