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Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Property from the Collection of Lee V. Eastman
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

Variant (Clamdigger Bust)

Details
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)
Variant (Clamdigger Bust)
bronze with green patina
12½ x 16½ x 10¼ in. (31.8 x 42 x 26 cm.)
Cast in 1972. This work is unique.
Provenance
Acquired from the artist

Lot Essay

In De Kooning's Variant (Clamdigger Bust), the features of the face and shoulders are obscured by the craggy surface. The artist's hand is visible from the extremely worked surface of the bronze. One can easily summon an image of de Kooning continually reworking this piece in clay--adjusting, adding pieces of clay, and demolishing an area he deemed unsuitable. The head seems to be emerging from the earth; there is a sense of solidity and tensile strength in the hulking shoulders. The sculpture consists of a rhythm of hollowed areas and projectile forms. The sculptural principles found in this sculpture also exist in Cubist sculpture, namely Picasso's Head, 1909. De Kooning's Variant (Clamdigger Bust) shares this kind of transmogrification of the human head.

This bust was produced from the upper portion of an early casting of Clamdigger the most important sculpture created by the artist. According to the artist's assistant, the latter sculpture underwent various changes and numerous mutations. "De Kooning worked on Clamdigger for many months, putting the piece through the same crucible of creation and re-creation as a painting. According to Christian, "A figure that began seven or eight feet tall was cut down to five feet; an arm was cut off, another bolted on; it went through countless versions of heads, two of which were cast from the figure in order to not to lose them'" (Quoted in M. Stevens and A. Swan, De Kooning: an American master, New York, 2005, p. 545).

Variant (Clamdigger Bust) also shares similarities with Giacometti's busts of his brother Diego executed in the 1950s. In both works by de Kooning and Giacometti, the figure is represented as an alienated character. The highly textured surface seems to take over the features of the head and shoulders. While Giacometti's bust is highly attenuated and has an ethereal quality, de Kooning's Variant (Clamdigger Bust) is solidly rendered and seems to emerge from the ground. While Giacometti worked with a live model, de Kooning worked from memory but this fact does not blunt the full force and compelling presence of Variant (Clamdigger Bust). Furthermore, de Kooning's modeling is much more physically aggressive; there are deep crevices and forms that seem to go beyond mere representation. He went beyond the conventional limits of sculpture, his process adopted from his approach to painting.

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