Willem de Kooning’s difficult masterpieces, recently so unfashionable, can now be seen with new eyes. De Kooning’s work for decades was virtually blacklisted by Greenbergian formalists, but MoMA makes amends with a well-chosen and complex survey. “Willem de Kooning, A Retrospective” at MoMA to January 9 is the must-see of the fall season. Jackson Pollock was great, but so was de Kooning, and we are here reminded why.

Of course, the single minded cannot allow anything but a single line. Art-historical descent does not allow dissent, or anything beyond clear-cut teleology. De Kooning’s error is that he seemed not to have left behind descendants who needed justification by patrimony to boost their prices, whereas Pollock supposedly fathered Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, and maybe, just maybe, Kenneth Noland. We need a new schemata.

Last season’s MoMA survey of Abstract Expressionism was not good enough to bend the curve. The MoMA de Kooning show might. Anger, angst, and ambiguity can no longer be repressed. De Kooning descended from Picasso; Pollock from Thomas Hart Benton.


John Perreault