Thursday, September 15, 2011

Maryl writes: Reserving your mind for later on

I’ve just returned from the opening night of the Willem de Kooning retrospective at MOMA in NYC. It’s an amazingly huge exhibit with over $4 billion of artwork. De Kooning was known for his continual revising of his work and changing his style and he certainly did have a fixation with the female figure. One of his most famous paintings, “Excavation,” completed in 1950, was inspired by the image of a woman working in a rice field, the actress Silvana Mangano in the 1949 film “Bitter Rice.” You can identify different anatomical body parts up close although the film wasn’t released until after the painting was completed. Interestingly enough, the exhibition catalogue points out that in a late 1949 Life Magazine there was an article on the actress as well as one on the excavations of NYC subway stations at the time. Interesting how the mind works.    
"Excavation," Willem de Kooning
And the mind was working overtime for de Kooning in his last period of work. It is well documented that he was suffering from dementia by then although it’s impossible to determine if these later lean and less colorful canvases were just another style change or the products of a deteriorating mind. I discussed this a bit with the show’s curatorial assistant (and my cousin, so proud of her). Lauren came upon the concept of “cognitive reserve” in her research on the artist. "The way that some people process information, the brain networks they use, allows them to cope better," according to a Catherine M. Roe, research instructor in neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. Basically the more cognitive reserve (CR) one has the less damage they will suffer from beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, the leading marker of Alzheimer’s disease, and the slower the mental decline. And the way you measure CR is based on one’s education level, forms of intellectual activity and occupational attainments.

Nothing more has been defined at this point on what schooling, activities or occupations are the best deterrents against any form of dementia. But isn’t it heartening to know that the steps we can take to protect our minds match the goals of a second life and we’re in control of them both. De Kooning’s final paintings have been described as having flatter surfaces with brilliant ribbons of color and had been recently grouped together in their own exhibition both here and abroad. Thanks to Willem de Kooning foremost for his most expressive art and for showing us that one can lead a full and productive life all the way to the end.

"Untitled," Willem de Kooning, 1983

Recap of links:
De Kooning: A Retrospective at MOMA, NYC
     2) “
Bitter Rice,” 1949 film
Cognitive Reserve article

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