“Flesh is the reason that oil painting was invented”—Willem de Kooning
(W. de Kooning, quoted by Marcia Brennan, Modernism’s Masculine Subjects: Matisse, the New York School, and Post-Painterly Abstraction, Cambridge, 2004, p. 72).
Painted at the height of Willem de Kooning’s career, Grand Opening is one of the artist’s classic Woman paintings, featuring the most glamorous women in the world, Marilyn Monroe. The focal point of Grand Opening are the figures heavily delineated eyes, along with the bright red hue of her lips. Here, Monroe is pushed up completely against the picture plane creating a strong directional diagonal that pushes toward the upper right corner before curving down, drawn back into the composition by the visual gravity of the subject’s eyes. The sporadic lines formed by the brush commands the entire picture plane and move in every direction, while the large passages of color create different planes for the viewer’s eye to rest from the chaos. Chromatically rich, the deep blue pulls your eye in and is complemented by the orange and burnt sienna hues. The red outline of the subject is balanced by the green aura surrounding her head, while the chroma of her skin and surroundings are more muted compared to the pure ultramarine blue that calms the painting.
De Kooning actually painted Grand Opening on newsprint, a comment on the objectification of women by the mass media. He often used dominant female figures in his paintings, and executing them directly onto newspaper allowed the often lurid printed headlines to bleed through and become part of the work. He would also often cover his paintings with newspaper to delay the drying process, while he worked on other paintings. When he would pull the newspaper off, the headlines and print would sometimes stick to the painting creating an overlay effect.
The artist’s career began in a more traditional fashion and it was not until he saw an artist like Jackson Pollock that he began to embrace a more abstract expressional direction. Thus began a lifelong interest in gestural movement. Within Grand Opening, this can be seen by the directional marks of pigment which opens up the form in the painting. De Kooning took great strides to find the bridge between abstraction and figuration. His works from the early 1960s, such as the present example, became much looser in technique, showing more expression in the pigment. The extent to which de Kooning perceives every gesture and mark on the canvas, shows the accomplishment of this particular painting.