Monday, October 10, 2011

de Kooning Retrospective

Capitalism and Marxism were the two predominant ideologies of the l9th and 20th centuries, and those who gloat over the fact that the fall of the Soviet Union made capitalism the winner might be counting their chickens before they’re hatched. The sociologist Daniel Bell wrote a book called The End of Ideology. Later came Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. In the world of art, the two great ideologies were of the l9th and 20th centuries were figuration and abstraction, and it would be nice to associate the more traditional form with the more traditional ideology. But, as we know, artistic and political avant-gardists chose different paths, and the art of the totalitarian state tended more towards traditional than non-representational or revolutionary forms. Clement Greenberg became the ideologist of abstract expressionism, doing for revolution in art what Marx did in politics, and showing that the work of Rothko, Pollock and others was the necessary product of history, at least from the point of view of what might be called evolutionary esthetics. Which brings us to the interesting case of de Kooning, whose works are now on display in a retrospective at MoMA. De Kooning is to art what Daniel Bell and Fukayama were to political philosophy. Here are some of his quotes, taken right off the walls the museum: “Art should not have to be a certain way;” figuration or abstraction “could simply be different options;” “I never was interested in how to make a good painting…but to see how far one could get;” “Being anti-traditional is just as corny as being traditional.” Of one of his most famous paintings, Excavation, he said, “I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things out or reducing painting to design, form, line and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things in, drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space.” Whether de Kooning’s anti-doctrinaire views emanated from Picasso or not, the two artists shared an obsessiona love-hate relationship to women (to regress into psychobabblese). Picasso’s famous portraits of women were a hard act to follow. They had to be the monkey on de Kooning’s back. His Woman I (1950-2) is a kind of Mona Lisa in reverse. Did he adore or revile his creation, a vagina dententa (with the dententa part placed right back in the mouth) with glowering eyes? Picasso’s discarded women became his masterpieces, but de Kooning was far more faithful to his ambivalence.


  1. At a viewing of Picasso's La Celestina this weekend at the de Young, I got the sense that this blue painting was the "grand-daddy" of his women ... dark, mysterious with some black tricks under that cape.

    Back to earlier post ... Brecht too was working to put out these ideological flames was he not?

    Thank you!

  2. Don't think it's true about Brecht; the early
    Brecht like Baal I believe is less ideological and didactic, but I don't think of Brecht as pluralistic or particularly tolerant. Francis


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