“Jasper Johns,” I once heard an art dealer declare, “is the Rembrandt of our time.” It speaks to the pressures of the marketplace and the hyperbole it can generate that such an opinion is shared by not a few members of the art world. Yet if Johns, that dour dauber of flags and targets, has been accorded the status of an old master, what are we to make of Willem de Kooning? De Kooning is, after all, one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism, the artist for whom the label “action painting” was all but tailor-made. He has long been a figure of mythic dimensions, as are many of the artists associated with the New York School, and it’s easy to ascertain why. As the contemporary art scene is characterized more and more by triviality, the era of Abstract Expressionism acquires an almost magical ambiance. Whatever its merits as art—and with hindsight, they are less monolithic than was once ...

 
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