new-york

Willem de Kooning

Gagosian Gallery / Mitchell-Innes & Nash

The dominant view of de Kooning’s brushstrokes maintains that they were heroic masculine gestures, deposits of existential Self; I prefer to imagine that they were self- (not Self-) propelled. They have what a biologist would call motility. This is also true of the career as a whole, which was a kind of motor fueled by such self-recycling strategies as repainting, collaging, tracing, and opaque-projecting earlier work. But eventually, as demonstrated by two recent surveys celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the artist’s birth, all the movement ground to a painful and ambiguous halt.

Both exhibitions proposed that we look at de Kooning’s career through the lens of his very late work. The modest but intelligent Mitchell-Innes & Nash show, “Garden in Delft,” took its title from a 1987 canvas, and the first work on display there was Untitled, 1988. At Gagosian Gallery, in a beautiful

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