Willem de Kooning, Montauk III, 1969, 72 1/2 x 70 1/2 inches, oil on paper laid on canvas
Having somehow snatched the de Kooning estate away from Gagosian, the Pace Gallery (midtown branch) is presenting a remarkable selection of rarely seen paintings and drawings, plus a few sculptures, in anticipation of the big MoMA retrospective which opens in September. Titled The Figure: Movement and Gesture, this group features some amazing works from the time de Kooning first arrived in his new studio in Springs, and began adjusting and responding to the new light and terrain. What we see here is work from a very short period in which the artist embarks on a transition from the figure paintings of the '50s and '60s to the monumental landscapes of the '70s. The figure or figures are still present, but except for isolated elements like hands and feet, they are completely integrated into the kind of loose organic shapemaking that comes to full fruition in the late '70s. Up close, these things look as fresh as the day they were made -- thick juicy surfaces, blotted, scraped, oozy and delicious -- and the color is particularly crisp. It can sometimes take a moment to move beyond our saturated recognition of the de Kooning archetype, to actually see the nuances and wholeness of each individual painting. But as we begin to apprehend these works with fresh eyes, the magnitude of his achievement is once again, and still overwhelming. The exhibition continues through July 29, 2011.