At the Musée de l’Orangerie, Soutine and De Kooning, drowners of shapes

The Musée de l’Orangerie has definitely become in a few years one of the most surprising places in Paris, where you can see works that you would not expect to see there. The Soutine / De Kooning exhibition is the latest proof of this. The idea first: to test the works of the affirmation repeated several times by the New York painter Willem De Kooning (1904-1997) according to which he was deeply marked by the painting of Chaïm Soutine (1893- 1943), particularly during the Soutine retrospective at MoMA in 1950.

For several reasons, all of them doubtful, this connivance is generally overlooked. It is so in the United States by the nationalist narrative which applies to diminish the major part that European art had in the formation of the abstract expressionism of the generation of Pollock and De Kooning, this action painting which would be made in the USA – even if De Kooning was born in the Netherlands or Rothko in Latvia. For Soutine, a second cause combines with this one. This is because it gives rise to little research work, not having been of any definite current or of any avant-garde. Aggravating circumstance, he was defended by authors with more than questionable positions: Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Maurice Sachs and Elie Faure, of whom we will perhaps end up one day by admitting that he wrote a history of racialist art inspired by Gobineau. So we see little Soutine in French museums. The last time in Paris, it was in 2012, and already at the Orangerie, because the museum keeps the collection of the merchant Paul Guillaume, which was that of the artist.

The Orangery offers fifteen paintings and a sculpture by a major artist of the 20th centurye century that it is necessary, otherwise, to discover in the North American museums

So we are intrigued by the rapprochement. Then comes the second surprise, even more vivid: the exhibition brings together a considerable and precisely chosen set of twenty-seven Soutines a no less considerable set of De Kooning whose only major presentation in France dates from 1984, at the Center Pompidou, thirty-seven years ago… So it’s simple: the Orangerie shows fifteen canvases and a sculpture by a major artist of the 20th centurye century that it is necessary, otherwise, to discover in the North American museums. Most of the paintings that are there come from: MoMA, Metropolitan, Whitney and Guggenheim Museum in New York, Hirshhorn in Washington. However, these are not small loans of medium-sized and little-known canvases. There is the ferocious Woman II from 1952, on loan from MoMA, of which she is one of the celebrities, or the Woman as Landscape from 1954-1955, from a private collection, which is one of the artist’s strangest works. We could name them almost all: the different versions of Woman in a landscape, Visit or his Marilyn Monroe of 1954, cruelly grotesque.

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