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Willem de Kooning : Tracing the Figure

Cornelia H. Butler and Paul Schimmel

15 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 069109618X / ISBN 13: 9780691096186
Published by Princeton University Press, 2002
Condition: Very Good
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069109618x 069109618x Very Good. (Binding: Hardcover, Jacket: Very Good) Cloth. Very good copy with very good dust jacket. Bookseller Inventory # 62715

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Willem de Kooning : Tracing the Figure

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Publication Date: 2002

Book Condition:Very Good

About this title


Willem de Kooning, one of the great pioneers of Abstract Expressionism, experimented with the human form throughout his career. An artist deeply skeptical about Western ideals of beauty, he focused on anatomical fragmentation and spatial ambiguity to express the fleeting nature of the individual. This strikingly designed book, published in conjunction with an exhibition originating at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, explores de Kooning's drawings of the female form between 1940 and 1955. It reveals an artist who struggled to eliminate traditional barriers between drawing and painting as he explored ambiguities between the figure and its background.

De Kooning relied on early-twentieth-century abstraction in his initial attempts to redefine the figure, drawing and re-drawing the same line until he resolved the image. Beginning in 1947-49, he synthesized abstraction and figuration, dismembering figures and rearranging them with seeming randomness. As his figural compositions developed, geometric configurations transformed into architectural elements (suggesting windows, doors, mirrors, paintings, and furniture) to create ambiguous space. In 1951, de Kooning abruptly returned to depictions of women. Using turbulent brushwork, he turned female figures into monumental, intentionally vulgar, wildly distorted images whose parts read alternately as flat pattern and fully rounded forms. The effect is an almost violent sensuality.

The artist's later style differed dramatically from that of earlier decades. Familiar shapes and hues suggest that women remain in his works, yet they are distorted beyond recognition as if seen from underwater. As put by Thomas Hess, the artist's friend and critic, "Woman, for de Kooning, is the human equivalent of water; more than a vessel, she embodies it in planes of rippling flesh."

EXHIBITION SCHEDULE The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
February 10, 2002-May 5, 2002 The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C..

September 29, 2002-January 5, 2003 The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
June 15 - September 8, 2002


At the forefront of modern art during the 1950s, painter Willem de Kooning secured his place in art history with the unveiling of his "Woman" series. Colorful, brash paintings composed of bold, violent brush strokes were seen by critics and viewers as vulgar and problematic but unfailingly important in their merging of abstract and representational forms. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles presents, in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name, Willem de Kooning: Tracing the Figure, a collection of drawings and studies that led up to the famous "Woman" paintings. Seen as completed works in their own right, these drawings bear de Kooning's distinctive draftsmanship of powerful lines, erasures, scrapings, and strong color. Blurred images of the figure coming apart at the seams, the works look as if they were made during an emotional explosion, though de Kooning's work process was known to be rather laborious. Four insightful essays complement the arresting images, including a remarkable discussion on the social ramifications of de Kooning's vision of the female form by curator Cornelia H. Butler. This well-crafted book is perfect for any fan of modern painting. --J.P. Cohen

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