NEW YORK—In an art-dealing coup involving one of the towering figures of postwar American art, the Pace Gallery has won representation of the late Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning, snatching his estate away from Gagosian Gallery, which had represented it since 2003. Coming less than four months after Gagosian poached the estate of the late Robert Rauschenberg from Pace, the move "could be seen as something of a payback," writes the New York Times's Carol Vogel, who broke the story.
The switch is unquestionably major news, bringing into Pace's ranks an artist who was apotheosized in the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2004 biography "De Kooning: An American Master," and who anchors MoMA's new critical rehang of its Abstract Expressionist holdings with four showstopping masterpieces. In joining the gallery, de Kooning will also reunite with several of his hard-drinking Cedar Tavern associates, including Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, as well as colleagues from the legendary Black Mountain College, where he was invited to teach in 1948 by Josef Albers, a Pace artist.
It is not clear, however, to what degree the Pace representation will affect the de Kooning estate’s longstanding ties to other international galleries, which held even after Gagosian began representing the artist. The estate has previously worked with Xavier Hufkens gallery in Brussels and Thomas Ammann Fine Art in Zürich. Xavier Fourcade, the dealer who represented the artist in New York toward the end of de Kooning's life, died of AIDS in 1987.
Gagosian presented two major exhibitions of de Kooning’s work in the years since acquiring control of the estate, "Willem de Kooning: A Centennial Exhibition," a 2004 survey, and "Willem de Kooning: The Last Beginning," a critically acclaimed 2007 show that focused on the artist’s late work — a body of paintings that until recently were dismissed as inferior due to the waning mental health of his final years.
Gagosian, who has made a specialty of championing artists' late periods to significant market ends, increasing the value of previously overlooked work, has only rarely found himself on the losing end of an artist transfer. But earlier this year photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto — who was given a hulking show at Gagosian’s 21st Street space in 2009 — left to join Pace as well.
The inventory of de Kooning works remaining in possession of his estate is not public. Lisa de Kooning, the artist’s only child and the administrator of his estate, convinced a judge to seal all papers detailing the specific works in the collection, according to an article written by Kelly Devine Thomas for ARTnews in 2006. Earlier this month, Lisa de Kooning attended Pace gallery's 50th anniversary party held under the High Line. (Interestingly, she can be spotted in the group photograph of the gallery artists in attendance, just behind Chuck Close.)
However much revenue a relationship with the de Kooning estate can actually generate, the cachet it provides a dealer on the world stage is difficult to rival. As New York dealers compete to sell works to buyers in ascendant art markets like China, Turkey, and the Middle East, a relationship with the estates of revered figures like de Kooning is an important signifier of status. Other estates represented by Pace include Alexander Calder, Jean Dubuffet, Barbara Hepworth, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Alfred Jensen, Isamu Noguchi, Coosje van Bruggen, Ad Reinhardt, and Saul Steinberg.