Motherwell Exhibit Opens In Scales

Running until the end of March, Hanes Gallery hosts an exhibit of Robert Motherwell’s collages and collage-prints

A selection of collages and prints produced by the American artist Robert Motherwell are currently on display in the Hanes Art Gallery. The exhibit, curated by Paul Bright and titled Motherwell: product. placement., explores the artist’s interest in commercial packaging and printed materials. 

Photo courtesy of Jack Portman

Motherwell consistently returns to imagery stemming from Gauloises cigarette packages by reproducing them in differing sizes and colors, incorporating their ready-made elements into abstract collages and integrating other commercial and print materials alongside. Conceptions of the nature of products and production are interrogated in Motherwell’s work, as he combines mass-produced material with seemingly organic — although continuously re-created — paint strokes and Rorschach-esque ink blotches. The distinct blend of commercial material and abstraction locates the work within Motherwell’s relationship to and experiences with consumerist culture and the ubiquitous monotony of mass-production. Seemingly interested in the redundancy of the imagery proliferating throughout his daily experience, Motherwell’s incorporation of commercial packaging and printed materials as crucial design elements reflects a consideration of the connectedness between mass-produced aesthetics and art products. 

Photo courtesy of Jack Portman

Sophomore Maddy Barnick was particularly impressed by Motherwell’s role in popularizing contemporary aesthetics while grappling with abstraction and ambiguity. 

“Motherwell was a core artist during the late 20th century who helped shift the American art market towards Contemporary Art. This Motherwell collection embodies the quintessential contemporary flare of the undefinable — specifically ‘The Red and Black No. 10’,” Barnick said. “This mixed medium work combines rich red colors contrasted by black rectangles, then layered with green sheet music which, I think, gives the work a puzzling aura. The Motherwell exhibition at the Hanes Art Gallery is a great addition to Wake Forest’s history along with many other past shows. I am grateful to have watched the progression of the gallery, and I am excited to see what comes next.”

Photo courtesy of Jack Portman

Motherwell, an abstract expressionist and a member of the prominent New York School, produced over 1,000 paintings, prints and collage-prints throuhghout his career, many of which incorporate actual collected objects such as envelopes and musical notation, or otherwise recreated found-materials through enlargement, replication and color-shifting. A graduate of Stanford, Harvard and Columbia, Motherwell decided to fully pursue painting after a vacation to Mexico with the artist Robert Matta. During this foundational trip, Motherwell met the actress Maria Emilia Ferreira y Moyeros, whom he would marry, and was introduced to the practice of automatism, which would shape his methodology as an artist. Automatic drawing was a Surrealist technique which allowed for the articulation of subconscious forms and ideas. The improvisatory and dissociative style shaped the cadences of Motherwell’s work, placing his commercial materials in dialogue with apparently subconscious shapes and methods. Motherwell reflexively articulates the extent to which mechanically reproduced aesthetics and mundane commercial imagery penetrate his subconscious experience. 

The exhibit, which opened Jan. 20, will remain available to the public until March 29. Bright, the event’s curator, along with Claire Alitzer of the Dedalus Foundation, who served as an assistant curator, will host two gallery walk-throughs on Feb. 3. On Feb. 4, an additional gallery walk through will be hosted, and Louis Goldstein will perform Morton Feldman’s “Triadic Memories.” On March 26, Bright will deliver a presentation concerning Motherwell’s oeuvre titled “Beyond Cut & Paste,” followed by a showcasing of works by the Fluxus member Ben Patterson performed by the Durham, NC group, Polyorchard.

Photo courtesy of Jack Portman