Both the artist and the patron knew exactly the audience toward which the work of art was directed..Davis said that “this article deals with the artistic, social, and the economic situation of the American artist in the field of fine arts, regarding the situation in the broadest possible way, and does not intend to stigmatize individuals except as they are the name-symbols of certain group tendencies.” He ends the essay by saying that “an artist does not join the Union merely to get a job: he joins it to fight for his right to economic stability on a decent level and to develop as an artist through development as a social human being.”.Just as I was asking him if he thought that it was the same line that we saw in the black-on-white enamel paintings where de Kooning had managed to escape the seductions of color, an excited stranger interrupted us: “Brilliant, amazing, he’s incredible!
For a moment, the crowd that was constantly amassing around the painting singled out by the organizers of the MOMA’s Willem de Kooning retrospective as the masterpiece of his early period—Excavation (1950)—had dispersed.
So my husband and I positioned ourselves in front of it to take advantage of what we knew was a rare moment of unobstructed viewing.
Excavation is strategically located to be the climactic experience in the room devoted to de Kooning’s “breakthrough” black-on-white enamel and oil paintings, which took letters from the alphabet as their starting point but through acts of concentrated painterly energy became something else—organic shapes, anthropomorphized figures, ambiguous forms, increasingly vibrant, rhythmical, and abstract, which I found thrilling to look at.
Excavation, more pale yellowish-white than the black of the other paintings in the room, was de Kooning’s largest work yet—6’9” by 8’4”—and my husband pointed out that he no doubt felt compelled to work on this larger scale, given that it was the moment of the mural-scale paintings of Jackson Pollock et al.
Nevertheless, it was still an “easel” painting—the distinction was Clement Greenberg’s—and if de Kooning was after the more experimental overall look and feel of a Pollock, my husband thought this painting fell short.
He appreciated the psychic battle apparent in all the strenuous marks of doing and undoing that de Kooning was trying to orchestrate into a unity during the many months he worked on the painting, but the more time we spent looking, the more my husband questioned whether de Kooning’s “talent” was getting in his way: the tasteful dabs of bright color, no matter how many subversive techniques he invented in their application; his masterful line and contour, no matter how violently he worked to dislodge the figure from its own pictorial space; and most telling, his unconscious return to the center of the painting with an “x” to mark the spot, even as he tried to allow for more spontaneous composition.
The essay describes the work habits and approach of some of the Abstract Expressionist artists, especially those doing “gestural” painting, such as Pollock and de Kooning, but on the whole the description fits most of them.
It is certainly true that the artists echoed the ideas and even the language of Rosenberg over a long period. Sutton gave a vivid account, not merely of Pollock, Baziotes, Tobey, Rothko, and other abstract painters, but of the environment in which their work had been received…. Sutton put for the first time questions which were to become familiar: ‘Do artistic movements exist in America which may be considered on an equal footing with those of Paris, London, and Rome?
“In reply to your letter of January 21 , I gladly authorize you to reproduce in in 1938.
There is, however, cause to specify (as I have done several times since then for reprints in French) that although this manifesto appeared under the signatures of Diego Rivera and myself, Diego Rivera in fact took no part in its inception.