Italy’s Largest Willem de Kooning Show Will Open in Time for the Venice Biennale

“Willem de Kooning and Italy” will trace the region's influence on the Abstract Expressionist's work.

Willem de Kooning, Screams of Children Come from Seagulls (Untitled XX) (1975). © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation, SIAE

An upcoming exhibition in Venice will be the first major show to explore how artist Willem de Kooning was inspired by his two visits to Italy, in 1959 and 1969. Including some 75 works ranging from the late 1950s to the ‘80s, it’s the largest-ever presentation in Italy of the Dutch-American Abstract Expressionist’s work and, according to the organizers, the only show ever to closely study Italy’s influence on him.

Curated by Gary Garrels, formerly of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and art historian Mario Codognato, “Willem de Kooning and Italy” takes place at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice and opens April 17, just in time for the pre-opening festivities of the Venice Biennale.

According to Giulio Manieri Elia, the gallery’s director, the last de Kooning show in Italy took place some 18 years ago. Lenders to the show include the Museum of Modern Art, in New York; the Glenstone Museum, in Maryland; the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; the Centre Pompidou, Paris Musée national d’art moderne; and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Dan Budnik, Willem de Kooning in his East Hampton Studio, New York (1971). © 2024 The Estate of Dan Budnik. All Rights Reserved. Artwork © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation, SIAE

“Willem de Kooning collected from the cacophony of visual excitement, light and movement in daily life to create his own lexicon,” said Garrels and Codognato in a joint statement.

“The impact of any visual encounter could render or generate an idea for moving into a new drawing or painting. Observing how his New York and East Hampton environments worked into his paintings and drawings, the same occurred in Rome—a gestalt of ‘glimpses,’” they added. “During these formative periods of time in Rome, de Kooning synthesised from all around him a new way of looking and activating his medium, experiencing both classical Italian paintings and sculpture as well as the work of his new Italian artist friends.” 

Willem de Kooning, Red Man with Moustache (1971). © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation, SIAE

De Kooning was one of the key members of a group of painters in New York. He worked alongside action painters, Abstract Expressionists, or the New York School, with artists including his wife Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still.

Some of his best-known works are his stark renditions of women that he began in 1950. He has become a giant in the market for 20th-century art: in 2015, music mogul David Geffen sold de Kooning’s 1955 painting Interchange to hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin for about $300 million, which was then the highest price paid for a painting.

Three paintings from 1960—Door to the River, A Tree in Naples, and Villa Borghese—will be on display together for the first time. Painted after his arrival back in New York, all three show the lasting influence of his Italian sojourn, say the curators.

Willem de Kooning, Villa Borghese (1960). © 2023 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao.

Thirteen small bronzes he made in Rome are also included. Resulting from a chance encounter with a sculptor friend, they stem from the artist’s first efforts with clay. He would turn intensively to sculpture back in New York between 1972 and 1974.

The show will also include a large selection of the “Black and White Rome” drawings that the artist made in 1959 on his visit to the Italian capital, and spans to paintings from the 1980s.

Willem de Kooning, Untitled #12 (1969). © 2023 The Willem de Kooning Foundation, SIAE.

Collaborating on the show is the artist’s foundation.

“The Foundation is delighted to be collaborating with the Gallerie dell’Accademia to present this important exhibition, as it allows us to share Willem de Kooning and the curators’ exceptional vision with a wide-ranging, diverse international community,” said Amy Schichtel, executive director of the foundation.

“De Kooning is one of America’s great innovators; we find that his risk-taking story continues to be of vital inspiration to many contemporary artists as well as to students and our young people.” 

Willem de Kooning, Pirate (Untitled II) (1981). © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation, SIAE.

Willem de Kooning and Italy” will be on view at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Calle della Carità, Vice, Italy, April 17 through September 15.

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