Artists & Galleries

Work on Monday: ‘Untitled’ by Willem de Kooning

After a couple years off, Work on Monday returns with a look at an untitled painting by Springs resident and Abstract Expressionist legend Willem de Kooning. This medium-sized piece is classic de Kooning in both palette and execution, and will soon be on view as part of Guild Hall‘s first installment of their The Artist Curated Collection series of exhibitions. Each show is curated by an artist using works from Guild Hall’s permanent collection. The series is designed “to mount challenging material that will encourage critical thinking about the interpretation and installation of works,” according to Guild Hall.

Curating artist Bryan Hunt chose the untitled de Kooning in his exhibition of paintings and works on paper, which aims to demonstrate “the path an artist takes from representation to abstraction.” While de Kooning is known for his abstract work, he did play with the human figure within those abstractions. The figures became more and more loose over time, eventually leading to his “Woman” series in the 1950s—most famously, “Woman I,” c. 1950–52—and then going further into gestural and liquid compositions during the period this untitled work was painted.

Each Work on Monday column looks at one piece of art related to the East End, usually by a Hamptons or North Fork artist, living or dead, created in any kind of medium. Join the conversation by posting your thoughts in the comments section below and email suggestions for a future Work on Monday here.

“Untitled”
Willem de Kooning (1904–1997, b. Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
55.75 x 36.25 inches, c.1970–72
Gift of Ron Delsener (see a larger version below)

This painting presents a lovely example of de Kooning at his painterly best. With a rich palette of colors and wet, layered mark making, the piece is true Abstract Expressionist fare, celebrating the paint and the action of applying it, but it still holds on to remnants of his figurative efforts. If one studies the artist’s body of work, “Untitled” (we’ll use this name in quotes for ease of reading) carries vestiges of “Montauk III,” a 1969 figurative piece with an all-over composition that still had obvious, flesh-colored references to the human form.

Click here to see “Montauk III.”

One can just make out traces of the flesh tone and outlines in “Untitled,” but de Kooning appears to have freed himself from representational bondage. No matter how far he’d already escaped such structure in “Montauk III,” this untitled painting breaks nearly completely away. Interestingly, soon after he did finally dive into pure abstraction, de Kooning began to tighten his forms and simplify his paintings into more refined compositions. These works became almost representational paintings of the fluid, gestural abstractions that preceded them.

“Untitled” is a beautiful bridge painting offering a window into de Kooning at the climax of something great—just before he began evolving toward yet another artistic revelation.

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See The Artist Curated Collection at Guild Hall’s Moran Gallery in East Hampton (158 Main Street) from February 24–March 25. A Private Member Opening is scheduled for Sunday, February 25 from 2–4 p.m., and a Gallery Talk with Jess Frost is on Sunday, March 18 at 2 p.m.

Learn more at guildhall.org.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled, c.1970-72, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 55 ¾” x 36 ¼” Gift of Ron Delsener, Courtesy Guild Hall
Willem de Kooning, Untitled, c.1970-72, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 55 ¾” x 36 ¼” Gift of Ron Delsener, Courtesy Guild Hall
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