Adler Distinguished Curator, John Elderﬁeld, Teaches Seminar on Willem de Kooning
Building on the success of last fall’s upper-level seminar on Paul Cézanne, John Elderfield is teaching a course this fall that addresses aspects of the work of the American artist Willem de Kooning, in particular the relationships in de Kooning’s practice between painting and drawing and between abstraction and figuration. The class will provide students with a rare opportunity to study in depth an artist who many scholars consider to be among the most important and prolific of the twentieth century with an art historian recognized as one of the foremost experts on the subject.
As Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture for the Museum of Modern Art, Elderfield organized 2011’s de Kooning: A Retrospective, the first major museum exhibition devoted to the full scope of the artist’s career—from his early academic works in Holland to his final, abstract paintings of the late 1980s. The exhibition featured the artist’s most famous, innovative paintings as well as in-depth presentations of his important series, ranging from his figurative paintings of the early 1940s to the breakthrough black-and-white compositions of 1948–49, and from the urban abstractions of the mid-1950s to the artist’s return to figuration in the 1960s and the large gestural abstractions of the following decade. The Art Museum’s painting Black Friday, from the black-and-white series, was featured prominently in the exhibition. The work came to Princeton in 1976 as the generous gift of H. Gates Lloyd, Class of 1923, and Mrs. Lloyd in honor of the Class of 1923.
For the accompanying catalogue, Elderfield provided a thorough exploration of de Kooning’s development, context and sources, theory of art, and working methods. The publication remains the most complete account of de Kooning’s artistic career to date and will serve as a primary source of readings for the seminar, with other readings drawn from texts by critics, art historians, and the artist himself. As part of the course, students will have an exceptional opportunity to develop a small exhibition for the Museum of the artist’s paintings and drawings selected from the holdings of The Willem de Kooning Foundation, an artist-endowed, private, operating foundation that fosters the study and appreciation of the artist’s life and work.