Review: Robert Motherwell At The AGO.

October 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Painting on Paper: The Drawings of Robert Motherwell is the unveiling of the AGO‘s large, recently acquired collection of Motherwell drawings. Although the show is somewhat lacking in a discernible or strongly stated thesis, it is undeniably a great collection of artworks.

Motherwell’s statement that paper is ‘the most sympathetic of all painting surfaces’ appears to be the central theme tying the exhibit together. Although this single perspective is not enough to encapsulate the artist’s entire oeuvre, Motherwell’s reverence for the medium is self-evident in the works.

The exhibit includes two traditional canvases from Motherwell’s Open Series, in which he experiments with the layering of larger and smaller canvases and the interaction of lines in space. The commanding gestural lines of these paintings provide a contrast to the softer, more whimsical feel of the ink drawings. It is clear that Motherwell is taking pleasure in the unpredictability of the medium and relinquishing much of his artistic control to the paper. In the particularly spectacular Lyric Suite series, the ink seeps into the rice paper with a fluidity that would be unachievable on porous canvas.

The small scale of these drawings is significant when one considers the importance of scale in Abstract Expressionism. However, it seems that the works have been diminished curatorially as well. Motherwell’s Painting on Paper premiered in the midst of the AGO’s summer blockbuster, AbEx (which also included a number of large Motherwell canvases). One wonders if Painting on Paper had been given the same marketing efforts, and overall attention as AbEx, would it be more popularly reviewed? Perhaps the ‘blockbuster’ notion of art exhibition is clouding both our access and appreciation of art. Motherwell states that ‘art is an experience, not an object.’ It is therefore important that these experiences of artworks be varied, diverse, and thoughtful.

Painting on Paper is a collection of works that exceeds the lack of attention and prominence it has been given, and is an opportunity to review an important collection of work by a truly influential artist.

– Georgia Erger

Painting on Paper continues at the AGO until December 11.

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