Robert Motherwell: Pure Painting is the first exhibition in more than a quarter-century to examine the work of Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), a major figure who shaped postwar art. Offering new insights into his evolution as an artist and his impact on Modernism, the exhibition is organized by guest curator Susan Davidson and features a selection of 56 visually compelling works from throughout the artist’s career, including twelve paintings from the Modern’s collection. Although he was equally proficient as a collagist, printmaker, and draftsman, it is Motherwell’s expansive sense of painting that this retrospective explores. Beginning with the abstracted-figurative works that dominated Motherwell’s first decade of painting as he emerged in the New York art world of the early 1940s, the exhibition highlights the depth of his fifty-year career.
The artist explored the nuances of abstraction in key series that defined his oeuvre, including Elegies to the Spanish Republic, Je t’aime, and Open. Motherwell invested his abstract paintings with both a profound and intellectual form of expressionism and an expansive consciousness of historical traumas and injustices. He frequently invoked political subject matter and humanitarian themes, making his work especially relevant to audiences today. Robert Motherwell: Pure Painting offers a careful and thorough new reading of the artist’s development, revealing his fundamental desire to depict the unseen.