At Andrea Rosen, Robert Motherwell Hints at Warhol

THE DAILY PIC: Stare at the abstraction, and a photo's half-tone dots appear.


THE DAILY PIC (#1328): Robert Motherwell’s Untitled (In Orange With Charcoal Lines), done in charcoal on acrylic paint in about 1970, is in a wonderful show of works from his “Open” series that is now at Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York. Since Motherwell’s moment in formalist art was all about the very closest, longest looking, I found myself getting right up close to the surface of his orange piece, and contemplating a peculiar fact: The way his paint and charcoal are grabbed by the “tooth” of the canvas makes them break down into a pattern of dots that’s very close to the dots used in the half-tone printing of photographs. (See the closely cropped detail, below, and click on it to enlarge it still more.) And of course, once you start talking about the reproduction of photos in paint, you’ve jumped right into Warhol-land. Zooming in on Motherwell’s Orange, you’re not a million miles from zooming in on an orange Car Crash or Electric Chair by Warhol, from half a decade earlier. Rosen’s press release says that the “Opens” are “content-fueled”, and I’m willing to take that literally.

Reality is always the ghost in the machine of abstraction – and vice-versa, as Warhol knew.

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