Excavation

Abstract painting with beige background, lines creating sharp angles, minimal color
© 2018 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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  • Abstract painting with beige background, lines creating sharp angles, minimal color

Date:

1950

Artist:

Willem de Kooning
American, born Netherlands, 1904–1997

About this artwork

Willem de Kooning was a central figure in Abstract Expressionism, an art movement that espoused the painterly actions of the artist as a sign of his or her emotions. De Kooning completed Excavation in June 1950, just in time for it to be exhibited in the twenty-fifth Venice Biennale. His largest painting up to that date, the work exemplifies the Dutch-born innovator’s style, with its expressive brushwork and distinctive organization of space into sliding planes with open contours. According to the artist, the point of departure for the painting was an image of women working in a rice field in Bitter Rice, a 1949 Neorealist film by Italian director Giuseppe de Santis. The mobile structure of hooked calligraphic lines defines anatomical parts—bird and fish shapes, human noses, eyes, teeth, necks, and jaws—that seem to dance across the painted surface, revealing the particular tension between abstraction and figuration that is inherent in de Kooning’s work. The original white pigment has yellowed over the years, diluting somewhat the flashes of red, blue, yellow, and pink that punctuate the composition. Aptly titled, the painting reflects de Kooning’s technically masterful painting process: an intensive building up of the surface and scraping down of its paint layers, often for months, until the desired effect was achieved.

On View

Contemporary Art, Gallery 291

Artist

Willem de Kooning

Title

Excavation

Origin

United States

Date

1950

Medium

Oil on canvas

Inscriptions

Signed: recto: "de Kooning" (bottom right in black paint); not inscribed on verso

Dimensions

205.7 × 254.6 cm (81 × 100 1/4 in.), without frame

Credit Line

Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund; restricted gifts of Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Noah Goldowsky

Reference Number

1952.1

Copyright

© 2018 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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