Collectors, predominantly from the UK and Europe, have fallen under the spell of the American Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell (1915-1991). In the first three days of Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper, the first ever exhibition dedicated to drawings and paintings on paper by the artist to be held in Britain, 49 works from the Lyric Suite alone were sold. The Bernard Jacobson Gallery, at 6 Cork Street, London W1, where the show opened on 11 October and is on view until 26 November 2011, has been delighted with the enthusiasm from visitors.
The exhibition, which is taking place twenty years after the artist’s death, comprises some 90 works with prices ranging from $10,000 to $300,000. At the centre of the show are 60 drawings from the 565 that make up the Lyric Suite. These were created in April and May 1965, a reinvestigation of first principles amidst the hubbub surrounding the build-up to Motherwell’s first major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art New York that autumn. The rest of the works on view span his career, the last dated 1990, the year before his death at the age of 76.
Robert Motherwell was a major figure in the birth and development of Abstract Expressionism and the youngest member of the ‘New York School’, a term he coined. His career spanned five decades during which time he created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. A passionate advocate and articulate spokesman for Abstract Expressionism, he believed that ideas and emotions were best communicated through the bold forms and gestural lines of abstract art. This exhibition also includes a group of works from the Beside the Sea series and a selection of works based upon James Joyce’s Ulysses as well as an abstract portrait of the poet. A further selection of works from the 1940s to the 1980s includes Elegy and Je t’aime as well as automatism drawings, work from the Drunk with Turpentine, Gesture and the Open series.
The Lyric Suite, named after Alban Berg’s string quartet, dates from 1965 when, as Motherwell recalled, “I went to a Japanese store to buy a toy for a friend’s kid, and I saw this beautiful Japanese paper and I bought a thousand sheets. And made up my mind, this was in the beginning of April 1965, that I would do the thousand sheets without correction. I’d make an absolute rule for myself. And I got to 600 in April and May, when one night my wife and I were having dinner and the telephone rang. And it was Kenneth Noland in Vermont saying that I should come immediately. And I said, ‘what’s happened?’ And he said, ‘David Smith’s been in an accident’.” Smith, the sculptor, was Motherwell and Frankenthaler’s great friend. Jumping into their Mercedes they sped to Vermont but arrived 15 minutes after Smith had died. Motherwell stopped work on the series. He said of them: “And then one year I had them all framed, and I like them very much now. I should also say that I half painted them and they half painted themselves. I’d never used rice paper before except occasionally as an element in a collage. And most of these were made with very small, I mean very thin lines. And then I would look at amazement on the floor after I’d finished. It would spread like spots of oil and fill all kinds of strange dimensions.”