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Willem de Kooning and John Chamberlain: Influence and Transformation


De Kooning had surged past “Excavation” when John Chamberlain entered the New York scene. In the upcoming fall show at PaceWildenstein Gallery, Willem de Kooning and John Chamberlain: Influence and Transformation, three to four decades of paintings and sculpture will be selected to yield a mixture of high energy contrasts between de Kooning’s originating gestures and Chamberlain’s almost rhetorical proliferation of modernism’s language of fragmentation and redemption. It should be a chance to take a backwards glance at the discrepancies and continuities behind the Age of Anxiety’s heroic self-image, a path Chamberlain chose to emulate rather than the move toward the minimalism of his contemporaries.

While de Kooning could have coined the term “metaphysical worker” in his studio on Tenth Street, Chamberlain took up his heroic challenge from the other side of the continent, but both could be said to have approached Buckminster Fuller’s problem of how to put two jagged irregular lumps of metal together to form a perfect cube (by looking for the least logical way!)  One can imagine de Kooning watching each color find its own way to black as he walked through the oil-splattered streets of Manhattan on rainy nights, observing the continuing blurring and subtracting of light and form. Chamberlain, on the other hand and on the other coast, seems to have put in sweating and industrious days of clarification and addition: welding, joining, and willing form into industrial metallic waste.

De Kooning the immigrant who said, “Paint as though every stroke might be your last,” layered and delayered each planar middle-ground of each canvas, while the fresh-faced American John Chamberlain worked exuberantly in a mode of overproduction, tearing apart the prefabricated wholeness of the car, the ultimate American vehicle, and rejoining it into an endless dance of undulating and reflective surface. His metallic curvatures reflect light to such an extent that they appear buoyant with the sense of gliding and giddy travel.

Chamberlain’s metaphors of endless and synthetic expansion should be interesting against de Kooning’s analytic of loss and light.


Rachel Youens


The Brooklyn Rail


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