De Kooning Show Dazzles

Willem de Kooning in his Springs studio in late 1983. Arnold Newman/Getty Images; artwork: Willem de Kooning Foundation, Artists Rights Society, New York

    The “Willem de Kooning: Ten Paintings, 1983-1985” exhibition at Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue dazzles in its scale and vision. An expertly chosen sampling of the best works of the artist’s late "classic" period, the works sing together in a room that while full of white space, barely seems able to contain them.

            As John Elderfield noted in his essay for the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, it has been almost two decades since de Kooning’s late work has been explored in depth. A group of paintings were in the artist’s retrospective in 2011, but lost in the volume of other and earlier works. Despite Mr. Elderfield’s endorsement of them at the time, those paintings never benefit by the comparison to the rest of the oeuvre. Add in talk about dementia and questionable authorship and there is a reason viewers tend to rush through those late galleries, their attention and interest spent on decades prior.

            Yet, in the hands of a gifted curator, such as Mr. Elderfield, who joined the gallery after his retirement from the Museum of Modern Art where he organized the retrospective, what seemed spent and tawdry looks fresh and magnificent, a departure of the mind, perhaps, but not of the senses.