The Life and Passion of Willem de Kooning, at MoMA

– By Val Bitici –

Willem de Kooning - Pink Angels, 1945

Willem de Kooning once famously proclaimed, “I don’t paint to live, I live to paint.” This simple statement is the unofficial theme of the artist’s impressive retrospective currently on view at MoMA.

A mammoth show that sprawls de Kooning’s 74-year career (painting, drawing, and sculpture) across seven galleries, “De Kooning: A Retrospective” had an impressively long, six-year gestation period. The chronological exhibit carefully traces the evolution of the artist’s works: from a hesitant still life of a jug by a 12-year-old studio apprentice in 1916, to large canvases of broad, bold strokes by an aging, frail master in the 1980s. Over the entire course of his career, he was known for experimenting with different materials such as newspaper and pastels, and playing with techniques such as impasto, collage, lithography, and sculpture. Like a crescendo, de Kooning’s famous, awe-inspiring “Woman” series falls somewhere in the middle of these experiments.

An unconventional approach to historical ideals, de Kooning’s representations of women fused a traditional, age-old subject with daring, contemporary principles. Inspired by the Cubist tendencies of fragmentation, the artist tore apart his models and morphed them into a splattering of over-exaggerated, sometimes barely identifiable features on a canvas: jagged, animal-like teeth, large, devilish eyes, and broad, obtrusive shoulders. This tug of war between figural and abstract art led to an unlikely marriage of the two – a unity that, once reached, was immediately celebrated throughout the art-world as genius.

De Kooning, who died in 1997 at the age of 93, created art until his health started failing in 1990. Stepping onto the sixth floor of MoMA is like stepping into a survey of de Kooning’s career as a student, a painter, experimenter, and teacher – as one of the most prolific artists of all time.

Woman, 1950




11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-9400

“De Kooning: A Retrospective” is on view at MoMA now through January 9, 2012.






Val Bitici is a writer, born and raised in manhattan. Since 2008, she has worked as part of Vanity Fair’s editorial team, sometimes contributing to Val spends her free time blogging (, traveling, trying new restaurants, cooking, skiing, and dreaming about one day becoming an art collector. 

Follow our site with Bloglovin

About the Author

Val is a writer and editor born and based in New York City. She started her editorial career at Teen Vogue, then moved on to Vanity Fair and Travel+Leisure. She is currently the head of content at StyleKist, a new social commerce app that allows fashionistas to shop and make commissions from their photo and video feeds. You may follow her @diaryofval