If you feel a need to compromise journalistic principles in order to get first crack at a news story, that’s a scoop not worth getting.
Writing in today’s NY Times about the Gagosian Gallery’s planned November show of 10 late de Kooning works, Carol Vogel, a highly accomplished, deeply experienced reporter, seemed demonstrably unconfortable in omitting the most newsworthy (and obvious) fact regarding this late addition to the gallery’s schedule: It appears to be an incursion by Gagosian into a rival gallery’s territory. (This Gagosian-Pace Gallery faceoff is reminiscent of another recent tussle over the representation of the late John Chamberlain‘s oeuvre.)
UPDATE: Pace has now provided me with information indicating that it does not represent the de Kooning Foundation, but rather the Johanna Liesbeth de Kooning Trust, a different entity. This is contrary to what the gallery had previously stated on its own website, which is what I had relied on. For more information on this (with a link to and image of the earlier version of the webpage), go to the end of this post. I am still trying to obtain additional clarification.
UPDATE 2: Andrea Glimcher of Pace has now informed me that the change in the website’s wording occurred either this morning or yesterday. She added that this revision was in no way related to Carol’s or my coverage. The former wording, which stated that Pace represented “the Willem de Kooning Foundation,” was “a mistake,” Glimcher said. She added that her gallery had never represented the Foundation, only the Trust, which, she said, consists of “the family’s collection.”
In what Vogel herself had previously described as a “fight among powerhouse dealers to represent lucrative artists’ estates,” Pace Gallery in 2010 had wrested from Gagosian the right to represent works from de Kooning’s estate. The de Kooning Foundation, according to Vogel’s latest article, approached Gagosian about doing the upcoming show and is the source of the 10 works to be offered there. The hoped-for “more than $30 million” in proceeds will be applied to “an endowment that would support scholarly and educational initiatives,” Vogel reports.
The missing subtext of Vogel’s NY Times article today was very obliquely invoked in her otherwise puzzling lead:
When Willem de Kooning was a struggling young artist and needed money, he would frequently sell a painting or sculpture as quickly as he made it, often bypassing his dealer [emphasis added], Xavier Fourcade.
The rest of Vogel’s article gives little indication as to why the artist’s circumvention of his own dealer has lead-worthy relevance to today’s story. Only the cognoscenti can discern the connection between de Kooning’s dealings and the de Kooning Foundation’s possible “bypassing” of its own dealer. (Pace is never mentioned in the Times story.) The inference that may be drawn from this is that de Kooning’s circumvention of Fourcade established a precedent for the administrators of his estate to do something similar (or perhaps not, given what Pace has now told me).
In these dealer wars, Gagosian has a powerful new weapon: John Elderfield joined forces with the Gagosian empire last year, after his mandatory retirement from the Museum of Modern Art. His role as organizer of Gagosian’s de Kooning show, coming so close upon the majesterial 2011 de Kooning retrospective that Elderfield masterminded in his former role as MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, would seem unseemly were it not for the charitable purpose of the upcoming show.
As it is, I had previously wondered about Elderfield’s unreserved validation of de Kooning’s controversial late works, allegedly produced by the celebrated Abstract Expressionist (not by his studio assistants) at a time when the artist’s mental status and physical abilities were known to be compromised. Vogel today reports that “by 1987 he [de Kooning] began showing signs of dementia.” But in their definitive, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, de Kooning: An American Master, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan noted that by 1986, de Kooning’s “concentration was obviously slipping.”
Stevens and Swan added:
As the year 1986 progressed, …that dance was over: the brushstroke had lost its partners. His canvases no longer seemed to breath in the same way. He was filling the space between lines, rather than animating the entire surface.
The fact that Elderfield is now playing a leading role in marketing late de Koonings increases my misgivings over his previous role in stamping them with MoMA’s prestigious imprimatur. In the wall text for MoMA’s show, which included work dated as late as 1987, Elderfield went so far as to hype the ’80s works as “the grand finale of his artistic career.”
At this writing, there’s nothing about “Willem de Kooning: Ten Paintings, 1983-1985″ on Gagosian’s website, nor did I receive any relevant press release. (I’m on the gallery’s e-mail list.) Last night (after Vogel’s article appeared online) and again today, I sent queries regarding the de Kooning show to Pace and Gagosian.
If and when I receive responses, I’ll update either here or in a new post.
UPDATE: As I stated above, a Pace spokesperson has now informed me that her gallery “represents the Johanna Liesbeth de Kooning Trust and not the Foundation, which is a separate entity.” That is also what it now says on the de Kooning page of the gallery’s website.
But a previous version of that page, which is the one that I relied on when preparing this post, said: “The Willem de Kooning Foundation has been represented by Pace Gallery since 2010.”
Here’s a screenshot of that post, still cached on Google (see the last sentence):
I am still seeking further clarification on this. But Pace’s statement to me today implies that Gagosian’s relationship with the foundation is not an “incursion by Gagosian into a rival gallery’s territory,” as I had said, above, that “it appears to be.” I have changed the headline on this post to reflect the information that I have now received from Pace.