Tina Kim Gallery is proud to present an exhibition of paintings executed in the 1980s by three very distinct but similarly renowned masters of abstraction — Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell and Gerhard Richter. While this decade saw the three in different phases of their careers, definite parallels can be drawn in their commitment to painting as a potent means of expression, and moreover, inquiry.
Despite their differences in gender, nationality and age, each worked solitarily throughout this era that was dominated largely by bombastic new voices, quietly producing what are still regarded as some of the most virtuosic works in their respective oeuvres. Though all of the works in this exhibition can be categorized under the same general rubric of “abstract painting”, each artist approached the canvas from a unique perspective. This juxtaposition of these six large-scale works provokes questions of process, intent and composition that are among the most fundamental to the genre of painting.
For de Kooning (1904 – 1997), the 1980s represented a significant refocusing. A pivotal and pioneering member of the Abstract Expressionist movement that emerged from the New York School of painters in the 1950s, de Kooning had lapsed into irrelevance in the ensuing decades. Newly sober and in declining health, de Kooning returned to his studio with steadfast concentration and resolve. The resulting works, boldly gestural but formally restrained, are among the most iconic of his career.
The same time period for Mitchell (1925 – 1992) was tumultuous, fraught with personal traumas including betrayal, deaths and illness. Having by then withdrawn to her estate in the French countryside, she turned inward and sought catharsis through her paintings. A member of the so-called second generation of Abstract Expressionists, Mitchell’s canvases can be read as both literal and emotional landscapes. In opposition to de Kooning’s deliberately placed forms, Mitchell’s brushstrokes are raw and strewn about the canvas in carefully orchestrated chaos. Charged with emotion and with experience, these late works reveal a mastery of color and composition.
In contrast, the 1980s saw Richter (b.1932) refining his distinct voice. Having relocated from Düsseldorf to Cologne, he remarried in 1982 and spent the rest of the decade painting and exhibiting prolifically. In particular, it was his abstract paintings that garnered recognition through his collaborations with important curators and art historians. These works, which are descended from Abstract Expressionism, take the Greenbergian line of inquiry one step further by attempting to convey an overall sense of beauty that is not derived from any particular aesthetic ideology. Mastering a new dynamic style of painting through a complex process of building up layers of paint and then scraping and chipping away at the canvas, Richter was able to affect a neat synthesis of many of the spatial preoccupations that concerned both Mitchell and de Kooning – effectively engaging them as both contemporaries and predecessors