Artist Says National Portrait Gallery Show Trivializes Elaine de Kooning

Willem de Kooning, portrait of Elaine de Kooning.
Willem de Kooning, portrait of Elaine de Kooning.

“I love cocktail parties,” says Elaine de Kooning in a quotation printed on an invite for a cocktail party tonight. “Big ones.”

The reception is in celebration of “Elaine de Kooning: Portraits,” an exhibition, which opens Friday March 13 at the National Portrait Gallery.

Regina Cherry, a New York artist and widow of Abstract Expressionist painter Herman Cherry, finds the National Portrait Gallery’s invite in poor taste, having been a close friend of the artist for decades.

Elaine de Kooning: Portraits” opens tomorrow and includes depictions of friends and contemporaries including poets Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, critic Harold Rosenberg, and choreographer Merce Cunningham. She also painted her husband, Willem de Kooning, and other artists such as Fairfield Porter. An image on the party invite shows the artist at work on canvases depicting John F. Kennedy.

The booze-soaked exploits of the Abstract Expressionist painters are well known, but Cherry says that the focus is inappropriate, especially since the artist eventually got sober.

“She gave it up,” Cherry told artnet News today. Referring to Willem de Kooning, she added, “She got Bill off the juice as well.”

Cherry has written to the museum with her complaint.

“Even when I give a 9 o’clock party, it’s likely to be a cocktail type of thing,” runs the quote on the party invite, “with people standing around. And since the Twist has come in, you know, we’ve been doing that. It’s good for you because you can’t drink so much if you’re going to get out on the floor and cavort around.”

To be fair, it’s just a party invite. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine a similar document quoting Jackson Pollock about how much he enjoyed drinking. Pollock died in a drunken driving accident.

“To represent a brilliant intellect with a quote that makes her out like a stupid party girl who is interested in drinking and dancing,” Cherry says. “It’s a total misrepresentation. Is this what you want to send out in the world? It’s very sad.”

Personnel from the National Portrait Gallery did not respond to our request for comment.


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