Saturday, November 19, 2016

Elaine de Kooning Rocks

Elaine de Kooning, Bullfight, oil on canvas, 77 5/8 x 131 1/4 inches
The Denver Art Museum has created an exhibition that's getting a lot of attention in the arts press. It's called "Women of Abstract Expressionism," and from what I can tell it does a good job showing how absurd it is that women artists of the time weren't considered by taste-makers to be quite first-tier. I haven't made a study of sexism in the arts, but I've always thought it strange that the lists of greatest 20th century artists are dominated by men but that at the local or regional level there is no sense at all that men are, generally-speaking, better artists than women. Our own collection might be 50-50 or might even tip toward women.

I'm posting a strong Elaine de Kooning painting from the show here. I might be betraying my lack of training in art history, but it's not apparent to me at all why this would be considered inferior to the works of her husband, Willem de Kooning, often considered one of the top two or three abstract expressionists. People with trained eyes can probably make some important distinctions here, but who could deny this is a great example of the genre? I would be hard-pressed as well to say that there is anything particularly feminine about the work. What I do know is that the brushwork is extraordinarily vigorous, the composition has a swirling (and stabbing?) energy, and the balancing and harmonizing of very strong colors is mighty impressive indeed.

Sidebar: Of all genres of painting, abstract expressionism is closest to jazz improvisation, since it reveals the thought processes and aesthetic choices that result in the final product. In fact, process and result are one. This is why jazz solos are usually more compelling to me than the composed solos of classical music. Jazz solos are rarely going to be as "perfect," but somehow the act of "thinking along" with the artist is immensely engaging for me. I generalize of course. For example, Bach is really great at inviting the listener to think along with him as melody and counterpoint unfold.

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