Chasing Nature

Nature seeps into the consciousness of the artist, taking hold of his imagination. It wrestles with his genius; every depiction created by the artist is an attempt to portray the nature of things, whether that is man, an inanimate object, or the intangible earthly forces. Finished works, being materials in their own right, are evidence that man has the capacity to add to, or even beautify, nature. The work of two artists, Willem de Kooning (1920-2013) and Zao Wou-ki (1904-1997), affirms the pervasiveness of nature, illustrating each artist’s struggle to aptly figure man, objects, and natural forces.

Holding court at 909 Madison Avenue, Lévy Gorvy occupies a newly expanded gallery space. To announce Dominique Lévy and Brett Gorvy’s international partnership, the gallery organized a museum worthy exhibition of Willem de Kooning and Zao Wou-Ki. The exhibition entitled ‘Willem de Kooning I Zao Wou-ki’ is the first pairing of abstract landscapes by the two Promethean post-war artists to date.

Highlighting a forty-year period of overlapped creation (late 1940-late 1980), the exhibition illuminates the stylistic similarities between the two abstract innovators. It certainly does not equate the work of de Kooning and Wou-ki. Rather, it opens a dialogue between the two artists by placing their works in conversation. Shared elements, such as rich coloration, gestural strokes, and tactile surfaces, can readily be observed.

While de Kooning and Wou-ki produce stylistically linked canvases, the artists diverge in their methodologies of creation. Whereas Wou-ki painted from an Eastern perspective, radically abandoning the subject of nature to bring out its truest form, de Kooning painted from a Western vantage point, crafting landscapes of the flesh to fully liberate the nude female form. Yet, as noted by the gallery text, both artists aspired “to surpass the division between the figural and the abstract.” Ironically, it is in seeking to faithfully represent worldly forms that de Kooning and Wou-ki colorfully blur the boundaries of reality.

Supported by the Willem de Kooning Foundation and the Foundation Zao Wou-ki, the exhibition illuminates a pivotal, yet under analyzed, artistic intersection. It delves into the East-West divide, noting the striking artistic parallels that arose in divergent contexts of creation. In such, large museum loans from the Walker Art Center and the Hirshhorn Museum complement works consigned to the gallery for sale. Opened in the Madison Avenue space on January 18, 2017, the exhibition will be on view until March 11, 2017. After, it will travel to China.

Image: Upper left de Kooning’s Untitled XVI. Upper right Wou-Ki’s 01-10-73.