Between Sense and De Kooning

Willem de Kooning, Two Figures in a Landscape 1967, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inche
Willem de Kooning, Two Figures in a Landscape 1967, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 inches (177.8 x 203.2 cm) Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Robert Linsley talks to Richard Shiff about Schiff's book Between Sense and de Kooning. The extensive conversation touches on many aspects of de Kooning and his career including his critical reception, his relationship to Cubism and Picasso, the slippage between abstraction and representation, the idea of finish, and painterliness.

Schiff remarks: "I think I argued explicitly—and in many places, implicitly—that de Kooning had no development in our usual art-historical sense of this term. He had continuity, not development. This is probably why it was so easy for him to shift direction (at least to us, it looks like a shift in direction, but since he had no direction, it wasn’t necessarily a shift for him). By shifting direction, I mean going from abstracted figuration to overt figuration, or returning to an old form to make a new painting, or even rummaging through historical imagery from the ancient world to the modern and from high art to commercial art and comic books to get his themes. He was serious when he said he was 'eclectic by chance.' This is a bit like 'deja vu all over again.' The title Between Sense and de Kooning refers to this lack of development, because 'sense' is logic, 'sense' is direction, and there’s something missing between this artist and the direction that we keep imputing to him because we want him to be more 'normal' than he was. Of course, 'sense' also refers to 'sensation.'"