Willem de Kooning once said to Andy Warhol: “You’re a killer of art, you’re a killer of beauty, and you’re even a killer of laughter. I can’t bear your work!” The exchange took place at a party in the Hamptons thrown by artist Larry Rivers; Warhol shrugged it off and said to filmmaker Paul Morrissey, “Oh, well, I always loved his work.” While their respective art is ideologically and aesthetically at odds, the artists share ingenuity, stints as window dressers at retail stores, a soup connection, and the impulse that led them to New York in their early twenties, where they were embraced and their careers flourished. At Art Basel this year, Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art pays homage to the pair, through two rare artworks that are emblematic of the respective artists, and shown together, hearken back to that legendary art world episode.
De Kooning’s career is rarely discussed without mention of his “Woman” series. Inspired by prehistoric art including the Venus of Willendorf and cave paintings from Lascaux, France, de Kooning made deep explorations into the female form at a time when figuration was out of fashion. A later “Woman” work, Woman (Arthur’s Woman) (1969), has been in a private collection for the past four decades, and offers an intriguing comparison to the now-iconic de Kooning Woman, I, (1950), which became the emblem of MoMA’s major retrospective in 2011. Pared down in terms of color, line and form, this work maintains a lush, energetic style and sheds light on the artist’s transition back to abstraction and into the “Late Paintings.”
Though it may not have been de Kooning’s taste, Warhol’s 20 Pink Maos (1979) is a fantastic complement, and a fitting piece to be shown in Basel. Warhol first created portraits of Mao Zedong as part of a commission from gallerist and collector Bruno Bischofberger; the first series was shown for the first time at Kunstmuseum Basel in 1972. Hundreds of Mao screenprints followed—the template was taken from Warhol’s copy of the Communist propaganda booklet, the Little Red Book—in a variety of iterations ranging in color and painterly treatments; he had read that Mao was the most famous person alive. In the late ’70s Warhol created his “Reversals” series by revisiting many of his major motifs and recreating them in negative format and mirror image. He distilled earlier works into two-toned compositions, contrasting bright hues with dark ones and creating nostalgic narratives that reflect on his own oeuvre and recast the significance of historical figures like Mao.
The gallery shows these works alongside an impressive range of abstract and figurative paintings including works by Ed Ruscha, Alex Katz, and Jean-Paul Riopelle.
On view at Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, Art Basel, Galleries, Booth F8, June.19th–22nd, 2014.
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