Skarstedt is pleased to present an exhibition of sculptures by renowned artist Willem de Kooning at their Upper East Side gallery. Featuring ten sculptures made between 1972-74, this exhibition will bring together works modeled by de Kooning himself rather than examples enlarged from existing forms, which demonstrate the artist’s skill and inventiveness in this medium. De Kooning Sculptures, 1972-1974 will be on view at Skarstedt (20 E. 79th Street) from November 5 through December 19, and the exhibition will be accompanied by a detailed catalogue.
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For de Kooning, the exploration of sculpture—which he began at the age of 65—was intended as an extension of the paintings for which he is widely known and acclaimed. His first sculptures were created in the summer of 1969, when he modeled small figures in clay. De Kooning’s sculptures retain many of the qualities of his paintings—notably, the sense of movement and emotion captured through abstraction. However, rather than in gestural brushstrokes, his figures were rendered in wet and malleable clay and later cast in bronze. He handled the material much like he did oil paint, appreciating its ‘freshness’— particularly the freedom it granted in that he could deconstruct a work at any time.
“In some ways, clay is even better than oil,” de Kooning admitted in 1972. “You can work and work on a painting but you can’t start over again with the canvas like it was before you put that first stroke down. And sometimes, in the end, it’s no good, no matter what you do. But with clay, I cover it with a wet cloth and come back to it the next morning and if I don’t like what I did, or changed my mind, I can break it down and start over. It’s always fresh.”
While most sculptors at the time had abandoned clay for steel, de Kooning explored the medium and kept the art of modeling alive. “Of his generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, de Kooning is the only one, besides Barnett Newman, to have sustained an interest in sculpture-making for a substantial amount of time.” Revisiting the rhetoric of European sculpture of the fifties, his work marked a total departure from what was happening in sculpture in the early to mid-seventies.
One of the ‘action painters’, de Kooning used sculpture as another outlet with which to explore abstract forms. Just as his manipulation of paint created highly charged moments, his roughly modeled sculptures retain a sense of immediacy in their melting, oozing shapes. Their tactile forms capture the essence of figures, from the completely abstract to the more identifiable—for example, Clamdigger, his first major sculpture—inspired by men digging for clams along the beaches near his home and studio in East Hampton. De Kooning’s work in the medium quickly forged its own shape, meriting its own place in the spotlight.