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Excavation, 1950

Willem de Kooning

The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund; restricted gifts of Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Noah Goldowsky 1952.

Oil on canvas 205.7 x 254.6 cm (81 x 100 1/4 in.), without frame

Excavation exemplifies Willem de Kooning’s innovative style of expressive brushwork and distinctive spatial organization. The dynamic composition of hooked, calligraphic lines defines anatomical parts—bird and fish shapes, human noses, eyes, teeth, necks, and jaws—revealing the particular tension between abstraction and figuration that is inherent in the artist’s work. Aptly titled, this painting also reflects de Kooning’s masterful process: an intensive building up of the surface and scraping down of its paint layers, often for months, until the desired effect was achieved.

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