Tuesday, January 3, 2012

We meet de Kooning

The abstract de Kooning that knocked him to his knees
Yesterday we hopped on the F train to hit MOMA for an hour or so before the Willem de Kooning retrospective leaves town in a few days. While I was happy to be able to use my New School ID to skip the entrance line, I was kicking myself for not making it up before the last rush. I'm not one of those people that can experience the full impact of a show when it's very, very crowded. Needless to say, the throngs of visitors made it challenging for Jamie, too. Back to the show!

I've never known much about de Kooning, except that he was from New York and painted abstracts. So I can't imagine a better way to experience a first solid encounter with the artist than with this sweeping retrospective, filled with over 200 pieces gathered from public institutions and private collectors around the world (thanks, David Geffen). Jamie's art teacher Scherezade Garcia, from the Parsons Pre-College Academy (don't you think they could come up with something less lofty to call an art class for 3rd-5th graders?), told me a emphatically and more than once that I should take Jamie to see the show.

Jamie's first New York Abstractionist painting
He's 8 years old, so it was as fun to spin around in circles and knock into people as it was to look at the painting "with four boobies!"  "Look, Mom, more boobies!" Sure enough, de Kooning's Woman series was there, and because I know nothing about his private life, they left me wondering what the story was behind the monster women in his life. Monstrous, twisted faces emerge from abstract nudes, all in a balanced cacophony of color, but nonetheless either frightening or comical, depending on the painting. The galleries kept opening up to other galleries, and when we entered the gallery with the abstracts from the mid-to-late 1960s, I felt I understood why Scherezade wanted Jamie to see the show. They're stunning, and I mean that in the true sense of the word, as it was literally difficult to pull my eyes from one painting to the next. I asked him what he thought about the last gallery, filled with his late paintings, suggesting to him that I thought they looked softer. "It's like he spent his life painting, and then he felt peaceful after he learned how to paint."

Back on the subway platform, we talked about the show, but it took awhile before he could stop using empty adjectives. "It was great... It was grand... It was wonderful..." Me: "But why was it wonderful?" "Because it was grand." "But what did you like about the paintings?" Jamie: "The boobies [insert 8-year-old boy laugh]." "But what else did you like about them?" [How annoying am I? Poor kid.] Finally: "He uses bigger brush strokes than Jackson Pollack, who just splashed the paint." That worked for me (sorry, Mr. Pollack), and made me especially grateful that we'd made the trek.

1 comment:

  1. I have a 7 y/o boy and his assessment of the paintings would probably have been very similar :)