Last Updated on March 8, 2024

Willem de Kooning, one of the most revolutionary and influential artists of the 20th century, will be the subject of a major exhibition in the Temporary Exhibitions Halls at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice. Opening to the public on 17 April 2024 to coincide with the 60th International Venice Biennale, the exhibition Willem de Kooning and Italy will run until 15 September 2024.

The exhibition will be the first to explore the time de Kooning spent in Italy in 1959 and 1969 and the profound impact those visits had on his work. It brings together around 75 works, making it the largest presentation of the artist ever organised in Italy.

The curators of the exhibition, Gary Garrels and Mario Codognato, will establish the influence of Italy on de Kooning’s subsequent paintings, drawings and sculpture in America, which has never before been thoroughly researched. The lasting effect of these two creative periods will be revealed in an outstanding selection of works, ranging from the late 1950s through to the 1980s.  

“We are convinced that proposing de Kooning was the right choice for several reasons: first of all for the importance of the artist,” Giulio Manieri Elia, Director, Gallerie dell’Accademia, said. “Secondly, because of its subject and special connections with Italy, which is dear and close to us. It should be added that following de Kooning’s death, his works have rarely been seen in Italy, with the last exhibition dedicated to his work dating back eighteen years ago. Finally, what convinced us was the quality of the curators’ selection, featuring around 75 works that represent the breadth of de Kooning’s most expressive periods.”

The exhibition will include a selection of the large and striking “Black and White Rome” drawings de Kooning made during his first extended visit to Rome in 1959. They will be shown with works from the late 1950s, made in the years leading up to de Kooning’s first visit to Italy.

For the first time, three of de Kooning’s best-known pastoral landscapes Door to the RiverA Tree in Naples and Villa Borghese will be exhibited together. Painted in New York in 1960, the lingering memory of his trip to Italy is clear. This section of the exhibition also includes large figurative paintings from the mid-1960s that paved the way for his interest in sculpture.

A gallery focusing on sculpture will shocase thirteen small bronzes that de Kooning made in Rome. Created after a chance encounter while in Rome with a sculptor friend, these were the result of the artist’s first experiments with clay, leading him to produce a substantial body of sculpture back in New York from 1972 to 1974.

The exhibition will also place painting and sculpture in dialogue with drawings from the 1960s and 1970s. Highlights include four ink drawings that de Kooning made while in Spoleto in 1969, presented alongside a complementary selection of intimate, gestural drawings that are conceptually related to the sculptures. In these drawings de Kooning fragmented the figure, often leaving empty spaces balanced against his vigorous lines.

The exhibition, designed in collaboration with the UNA/FWR Associati studio directed by architect Giulia Foscari ends with a selection of de Kooning’s late paintings from the 1980s, in which the language of three-dimensional form is transfigured into a new, abstract poetry. These paintings contain the faintest figurative references and are characterised by subtly tinted whites balanced by brilliant bands and areas of color. They are among de Kooning’s most sublime works, in which a sense of Baroque composition resides. 

“Willem de Kooning collected from the cacophony of visual excitement, light and movement in daily life to create his own lexicon,” Gary Garrels and Mario Codognato, Curators, said. “The impact of any visual encounter could render or generate an idea for moving into a new drawing or painting. Observing how his New York and East Hampton environments worked into his paintings and drawings, the same occurred in Rome – a gestalt of ‘glimpses.’ During these formative periods of time in Rome, de Kooning synthesised from all around him a new way of looking and activating his medium, experiencing both classical Italian paintings and sculpture as well as the work of his new Italian artist friends.” 

The exhibition is presented in collaboration with The Willem de Kooning Foundation, an artist-endowed, private operating foundation fostering the study and appreciation of Willem de Kooning’s life and work through research, exhibitions and educational programmes.

“The exhibition offers an extraordinary opportunity to present new research and insights to enrich the experience of the Accademia’s thousands of visitors, both local and from afar,” Amy Schichtel, Executive Director, The Willem de Kooning Foundation, said. “De Kooning is one of America’s great innovators; we find that his risk-taking story continues to be of vital inspiration to many contemporary artists as well as to students and our young people.”

Willem de Kooning Biography

Willem de Kooning (1904, Rotterdam, the Netherlands – 1997, East Hampton, USA) was one of the great artists of the twentieth century. He received critical acclaim in 1948 with a one-person exhibition of non-representational, densely worked, oil and enamel paintings, including his now revered black-and-white paintings.

De Kooning was awarded many honours in his lifetime, including The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, USA. His artwork has been included in thousands of exhibitions and is in the permanent collections of many of the world’s eminent art institutions.


  • Chadd Scott

    Chadd Scott is an arts contributor with Forbes and the founder of See Great Art, where he writes about his travels from big city museums to small town galleries in search of great art.

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