At Andrea Rosen, Robert Motherwell Goes Un-abstract

THE DAILY PIC: His collages prove that even he was happy to let the world into his images.


THE DAILY PIC (#1443): I’m no Motherwell specialist, by a long shot, so I didn’t know this 1960 collage, called The French Line, until I saw it in a show of similar Motherwells at Andrea Rosen’s project space in New York. It confirms something that’s becoming more and more clear to me: Abstraction never had the tight hold on American art that we’ve imagined. It only really picked up speed in the 1930s, and already by 1947 – the very year that Jackson Pollock scored American abstraction’s biggest victory – the painter Balcomb Greene, who’d been one of the first and fiercest abstractionists in the country, was saying that the movement was reaching a “dead end”.

To see as great an abstract artist as Motherwell sourcing his collages in the world’s mess just confirms what I’m saying. That also means that Pop Art never had to score the “victory” over hegemonic abstraction that’s been claimed for it. My hero Warhol had been Greene’s pupil, so he for one didn’t need to be told that there could be more to art than an exploration of colors and shapes. Pop just reconfirmed something abstractionists as smart as Motherwell already knew perfectly well.

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