Blake Gopnik has an oddly truncated Newsweek story previewing MoMA’s de Kooning retrospective. The museum show ought to have an effect on the Dutch master’s public auction prices. The private market has been where the real de Kooning fireworks took place, most notably with Steven Cohen’s $63.5m purchase of Police Gazette from David Geffen. That was in 2006, around the same time that public price records (in the $15-20m range with one outlier at $27m) were being set for de Kooning works from the 1970s. Those sales were said to be the product of a taste for de Kooning’s landscapes among a small group of Russian buyers.
The MoMA show ought to help generate demand among a broader base of buyers. But will the work make it to market? And could de Kooning’s prices move up as Giacometti’s did in the years after a 2001 show at MoMA?
Back to the art itself, Gopnik explains that much of the received wisdom about de Kooning really doesn’t hold water:
De Kooning is one of our most famous artists. We’ve heard about his drinking and womanizing. Since 1974, we’ve noted his pictures’ record prices. And we’ve read plenty on his decline into dementia in the 1980s, and the paintings he kept making despite it. But we still don’t know what to do with his art. “The range of talent and innovation in de Kooning is similar to that of Cézanne,” said Richard Shiff, a great Cézanne scholar who is publishing a new book on de Kooning. John Elderfield, the MoMA show’s curator, writes that his painter embraces “difficulty, resistance, and ambiguity.”
De Kooning is often billed more simply than that, as Jackson Pollock’s chief rival in abstract expressionism, although de Kooning himself disliked the “-ism.” His art may have plenty of expression in it, but de Kooning’s painterly outpourings, rather than spilling from his soul, are as carefully constructed as any Old Master picture.
De Kooning’s Fractured Genius (Newsweek/The Daily Beast)