Sheer Presence: Monumental Paintings
New York, 509 West 27th Street
This unprecedented exhibition will be the first to focus solely on Motherwell’s approach to large-format painting and will be comprised of eight works spanning the 1960s - 1990, including a core group of paintings from the collection of The Dedalus Foundation. This will be the fourth exhibition on which Kasmin Gallery and The Dedalus Foundation have collaborated.
As one of the most novel and confident mark-makers of the Abstract Expressionist era, Motherwell consistently turned to the monumental canvas to pursue his lifelong ambition of realizing “sheer presence, beingness, as such, objectivity and true invention” (R. Motherwell, quoted in an interview with B. Robertson, “Robert Motherwell: Theme and Variations,” ART: New York, broadcast December 15, 1964).
For Motherwell, it was substantial scale that allowed for his intuitive gesturality to become amplified; resulting in paintings that are at once performative, dramatic and imposing. In 1965, Motherwell remarked, “The large format, at one blow, changed the century-long tendency of the French to domesticize modern painting, to make it intimate. We replaced the nude girl and the French door with a modern Stonehenge, with a sense of the sublime and the tragic that had not existed since Goya and Turner” (R. Motherwell, quoted in M. Kozloff, “An Interview With Robert Motherwell,” Artforum, September 1965, p. 37).
The paintings in the exhibition are representative of several major themes explored by Motherwell throughout his career. Dublin, 1916, with Black and Tan, 1963-64, at once alludes to the artist’s continued engagement with social and political ideas, and also reflects his pervading use of large, planar areas of color and spatial ambiguity. Also included in the exhibition is Open No. 97: The Spanish House, 1969, a striking composition from the artist’s seminal Open series. The work displays an expanse of vibrant orange, circumscribed by architectural lines. Its title refers to a house in the Spanish town of Cadaqués, a photograph of which Motherwell had on constant display in his studio—a testament to his enduring dedication to Spain as a subject.
Painted in 1989-90, shortly before Motherwell’s death, The Grand Inquisitor is a formidable example from the artist's last major series of paintings, The Hollow Men. Strongly related to the imagery of Motherwell’s ubiquitous Spanish Elegy series, the abstract forms are set against a bright ochre and bold red ground. Together, the works in Sheer Presence manifest the grandest of Motherwell’s technical facilities and painterly achievements.