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Rotterdam honours artist with ‘Willem de Kooning Year’

Birthplace remembers Dutch American painter

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ROTTERDAM - With the unveiling of a neon text attributed to Rotterdam native Willem de Kooning, the port city has embarked on a year-long hommage to the famed Dutch Amer-can painter born in a Rotterdam neighbourhood on April 24, 1904. A number of other events and ex-hibits will celebrate the life and the Rotterdam connection of De Kooning who died in 1997.

The neon text is attached to the artists’ society named after De Kooning and reads En terwijl ik naar bed gaat denk ik aan de Zaagmolenstraat (And while I am going to bed, I think about the Zaagmolenstraat). The reference is taken from a letter the artist wrote to his father, after De Kooning had been in the U.S. for a while. A stowaway and an illegal immigrant, he jumped ship in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1926. De Kooning had lived with his mother who had taken him away from his father who had been given custody of Willem when they divorced in 1909.

Books and exhibits

The letter to his father, and another one which was saved as well, are incorporated in a booklet published on the 100th birthday of De Kooning. This fall, a book about the famed painter will be published written by Dutch author Bert Schierbeek in 1967. The unpublished manuscript which had disappeared, resurfaced a few years ago.

During the De Kooning Year, the Art Academy named after him will mount a special exhibit, as will the Rotterdam museum Kunsthal. A major retrospective of De Kooning’s work is still in the planning stages. Most of the painter’s work is owned by museums in the U.S. The De Kooning heritage is administrated by the Willem de Kooning Foundation; his daughter Lisa is his sole heir.

Abstract expressionism

De Kooning had been living in the U.S. for forty years before he finally became a U.S. citizen. By that time, the painter was very well connected and established, and had been a wealthy artist already for over two decades. De Kooning is seen as one of the foremost representatives of the art movement called abstract expressionism.

His first one-man art show was held in 1948. When his canvas ‘Excavation’ won the major prize at the Art Institute of Chicago’s 1951 exhibition, it was viewed as a vindication for abstract expressionism.

In his later years, De Kooning was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In 1989, after a bitter court fight, he was declared mentally incompetent. The control of his estate was turned over to his attorney and his daughter Lisa, then 32. In 1989, De Kooning’s 1955 masterpiece ‘Interchange’ sold for a $20.6 million. De Kooning’s self-designed studio in East Hampton, an eastern Long Island hamlet, is meticulously kept the way it was when he died.

A retrospective of De Kooning’s work was opened at the Cagosian Galley in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York by his daughter Lisa on what would have been her father’s 100th birthday. The exhibit runs through June 19, 2004.