ARTchive: ELAINE DE KOONING by Barbara MacAdam

 MacAdam & Co. ArtTalk: ARTchive

 The following review first appeared in ARTnew Magazine in November 2012

 

ELAINE DE KOONING

Levis Fine Art

Through December 2

Portrait of Alex Katz , 1975, oil on masonite, 34 x 30 inches, Private Collection, New Jersey

Portrait of Alex Katz, 1975, oil on masonite, 34 x 30 inches, Private Collection, New Jersey

Dealer Jim Levis is devoted to amplifying the reputations of under-acknowledged talents, and that includes Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, and Hedda Stern, among others. Inaugurating his new Chelsea gallery is a fascinating, often enlightening show of paintings by de Kooning (or E de K), dating from prior to her relationship and 45-year on-and-­offish marriage to Willem de Kooning to shortly before her death in 1989.

Basketball #40 , 1977, oil on canvas, 84 x 66 inches, Private Collection, Palm Beach, Florida

Basketball #40, 1977, oil on canvas, 84 x 66 inches, Private Collection, Palm Beach, Florida

The show gives glimpses of the breadth of her studies, experiments, and practice within and outside of her husband-teacher's influence. Some of the paintings come off as period pieces, such as Basketball #40 (1977), a dynamic scene that owes allegiance to Action Painting, as well as to sports illustration of the time, with the interplay of oranges and reds and greens generating frenzied motion, and typifying E de K's dramatic, expressive style.

Portrait of Joseph Hirshhorn , ca. 1952, oil on canvas, 44 x 28 inches, Levis Fine Art

Portrait of Joseph Hirshhorn, ca. 1952, oil on canvas, 44 x 28 inches, Levis Fine Art

Other paintings are interesting for their insightful takes on portrait subjects – usually men – such as her 1975 painting of Alex Katz who appears darkly pensive (or angry) with shadowed eyes. A group of full-figure portraits, posed classically in the center of the canvas, includes a seated Joseph Hirshhorn looking contemplative, more than powerful. And E de K's lover and friend Aristodimos Kaldis stands in his studio, bristling with Grecian machismo.

Portrait of Kaldis , 1977, oil on canvas , 40 x 30 inches, Private Collection, Maine

Portrait of Kaldis, 1977, oil on canvas , 40 x 30 inches, Private Collection, Maine

E de K wrote in 1959 about how she saw her seated men "as gyroscopes." She aimed to capture "the particular gesture of a particular expression." Her portraits, however awkward some are, convey a thrilling psychological edginess, as in her depictions of critic Harold Rosenberg. He is breathtakingly human, slouched, pensive, and fearsome-looking.

Conrad , 1954, oil on canvas, 80 x 46 inches, Private Collection, Delaware

Conrad, 1954, oil on canvas, 80 x 46 inches, Private Collection, Delaware

In 1958, E de K went to the Southwest and became entranced with nature and pure abstraction. She developed a love of Mexico, evident in her assertive and richly colored painting Farol (1958), which brilliantly conjures the action of the bullfight without the protagonists – a great conceptual feat.

Farol , 1958, oil on canvas, 54 x 77 inches, Mint Museum-Charlotte, North Carolina

Farol, 1958, oil on canvas, 54 x 77 inches, Mint Museum-Charlotte, North Carolina

Pure stylistic originality was not E de K's aim or strength. Rather, what shows best in her work is her personality, her spontaneous emotionalism, and her respect for the traditions in which she trained.

 -Barbara A. MacAdam

All images are courtesy Levis Fine Art and copyright © Elaine de Kooning Trust.