Art in Review | Robert Motherwell: 'Works on Paper, 1951 - 1991'
by Karen Rosenberg

The New York School artist Robert Motherwell could be ponderous in oil on canvas. But on paper, he was lighter and looser, to judge from the Kasmin Gallery’s career-spanning mini-survey of Mr. Motherwell’s drawings and collages (organized with the artist’s Dedalus Foundation). Working with ink, charcoal, acrylic and assorted labels and wrapping papers, Mr. Motherwell offset strong colors and muscular gestures with the suggestion of chance and accident.
 
The show includes notable works from every phase of Mr. Motherwell’s long career, from the loopy 1951 ink drawing “Fowl” to the vibrant mixed-media piece “The Red and Black No. 24” of 1987-88. But it’s especially rich in works from the 1960s. Acrylic drawings from 1967 evince an interest in contained automatism, sandwiching little dabs and blobs of red and blue between thick and thin bars of rust brown.
 
Collages made that same year are similarly compelling, with crinkled rectangles of brown paper (bearing mailing labels and customs stamps) placed in a slightly offhand way against bright monochromes.
 
The show should be seen especially for the room of 40 highly improvisational ink drawings on rice paper, from Mr. Motherwell’s “Lyric Suite” of 1965. With blue and black inkblots that bleed red, orange and green, they are obviously connected to Asian Zen painting and calligraphy but could also be taken for miniature Color Field stain paintings. (Mr. Motherwell, it’s worth noting, was married to Helen Frankenthaler at the time.) And they show this master of restraint at his most limber.

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