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Elaine de Kooning
Merce Cunningham
Oil on canvas

96 x 48 1/8 x 2 inches
Smithsonian Institution gift of the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc. © Elaine de Kooning Trust

National Portrait Gallery

Excerpt from The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.:

A seminal choreographer of the twentieth century, Merce Cunningham revolutionized dance by embracing everyday movement and devising new ways to integrate choreography, music, and visual effects. A protégé of Martha Graham, Cunningham performed with her company from 1939 to 1945. He then began a long partnership with composer John Cage, merging his own abstract choreography with Cage’s austere modernism to produce works of unstructured randomness. In 1953 Cunningham formed his own company, where he showcased abstract dance focused on pure movement and also collaborated with avant-garde visual artists. He had met Elaine and Willem de Kooning while teaching at Black Mountain College. Although Elaine incorporated some of her husband’s abstract brushwork into her art, she was "addicted" to portraiture. Interested in expressing character through stance and gesture, she depicted Cunningham’s compact body in a static but intense pose.


Related Links

Elaine de Kooning: Related Links on Art in Context


Elaine de Kooning, American, (1918-1989)
b. March 12, 1918, Brooklyn, New York
d. 1989

Art in Context - Projects:
Art in Context - Art for the Day: March 12

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