WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonians National Portrait Gallery
has organized a major retrospective Elaine de Kooning: Portraits. Elaine de Kooning (19181989) created abstract and figurative paintings and drawings in New York City during the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement following World War II. The exhibition includes 66 of her portraits; it is open March 13 through Jan. 10, 2016.
A vast majority of de Koonings works reside within her estate and among family members and have rarely been seen by the public. The National Portrait Gallery holds the largest museum collection of her portraits with 13 drawings and paintings, and all are on display. The exhibition shows nine drawings and paintings of John F. Kennedy by de Kooning, including the museums painting of Kennedy, which is usually on long-term view in the museums permanent collection exhibition, Americas Presidents; it is one of two painted by women in the popular exhibition.
Elaine de Kooning was one of the American artists who helped advance the reputation of American art in the mid-20th century as innovative, brash and highly individualistic, said Kim Sajet, director of the museum. As a portraitist working in a gestural Abstract Expressionist mode, she never abandoned working with the figure but ensured that a persons likeness was linked to their innate vitality and spirit. The National Portrait Gallery is proud to own a number of major art works by Elaine such as the painted portrait of President John F. Kennedy; this exhibition is a perfect opportunity to present our collection, and her modernist spirit.
Her colorful, fluid and gestural portraits of friends and family were much admired during her lifetime. Sitters include poets John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg and Frank OHara, critic Harold Rosenberg, President John F. Kennedy, de Koonings husbandpainter Willem de Kooningand painters Robert De Niro Sr. and Fairfield Porter, who commented that her images of men are both sympathetic and frighteningly acute.
The exhibition also examines de Koonings process by showing multiple versions of her work. She held that recognition is also greatly informed by a persons pose and bearing, that a persons face is a part of portrayal but not the only part.
In addition to featuring de Koonings paintings and drawings, the Portrait Gallerys exhibition includes images of de Kooning in her studio and footage from several short films, including Betty Jean Thiebauds 1976 film, Elaine de Kooning Paints a Portrait.
After her marriage to artist Willem de Kooning in December 1943, Elaine de Kooning began signing her portraits E de K to avoid confusion. Scholars have referred to her many different ways since then. In the show, the museum is breaking tradition and referring to her by her first name, primarily because friends and colleagues believe she would prefer to be called Elaine, as she was in life.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 144-page book published by Delmonico Books/Prestel; it will be available in the museum store and online for $49.