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Two exhibits show little-known work of Elaine de Kooning


January 17, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

"And yet, whatever you are comes out in everything you do, no matter how much you try to disguise it. Some of those essences emerged in Elaine's work, and that's for the good, but had it been accepted as something of value at the time, that side of her could have developed more in the work. I would have liked to have seen that happen."

Of all her works, the most admired today may be her late series based on the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux, France.

In them, says Ms. Hartigan, "Elaine developed a sense of color to an extent that she hadn't before, with those beautiful transparent washes."

But Ms. Hartigan also likes the series of basketball players. "I like them for their sense of movement and excitement, and it was interesting for a woman to approach this really male kind of subject. She said to [poet] Frank O'Hara that she loved those great buns they had."

Ms. Gunderson also admires the cave paintings. She said, "I think the Bacchus series is among her best for that close combination of abstraction and reality."

Abstract sculptor and friend Ibram Lassaw says he responds most to E de K's purely abstract work. But, he adds, "I respect other aspects of her work. She did a number of portraits, you know, and she captured the personality of the subject very well."

Ms. Bledsoe also admires the portraits, and E de K for doing them. "The portraits as a group are more important than she thought they were. They are very intimate portraits of a group of people -- Tom Hess, Leo Castelli, Harold Rosenberg -- who were major characters in postwar American art."

And, she adds, "There are no other abstract expressionist portraits. It just wasn't done. It was declasse. If you wanted a picture of someone you took a camera. She did it because she loved these people and because it was something nobody else was doing.

"She liked to do portraits when surrounded by people. It was a very social kind of occasion. Apparently, she'd suddenly say, 'Sit down, I'm going to paint your portrait.' Yet when she started to do what she thought serious work, she required absolute solitude. She couldn't bear to have anyone else around her."

Other parts of her life, however, were more like her portrait sessions.

Including other people

Ms. Gunderson remembers, "She was the most inclusive person in the world. Once, after a group of us had been to a Fairfield Porter show in Boston, we were sitting around in the cafeteria with coffee and sandwiches having a great time, and outside of our group was a woman sitting alone.

"Elaine looked over and said, 'Why don't you join us?' So she did, and she was delightful. I don't know her name and I've never seen her again, but that was one of the things about Elaine. She was able to connect with people."

Ms. Hartigan remembers her as "an electric personality. She was beautiful, charming, brilliant, witty, stimulating to be with and an extremely loyal friend."

Ms. Hartigan's friendship with Elaine de Kooning goes back to the 1940s, and embraces the heady years of postwar abstract expressionism.

"When Elaine died," Ms. Hartigan said, "something ended for me. That whole time."


Where: The Maryland Institute, College of Art, Decker Gallery in Mount Royal Station building, Mount Royal Avenue and Cathedral Street.

When: Opening reception, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Regular hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays (Thursdays and Fridays to 9 p.m.), noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 21.

Call: (410) 225-2300.


4 Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 1006 Morton St.

When: Opening reception, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Regular hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 27.

Call: (410) 539-1080.

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