Los Angeles

Robert Motherwell

Pasadena Art Museum

Robert Motherwell, Pasadena Art Museum. This is the first retrospective exhibition Motherwell has had in the United States. It is a fact in which Southern Californians can take pride. Director Leavitt deserves credit for his enterprise in arranging the exhibition and for bringing the artist to the West Coast for a chaotic, witty and human lecture to overflowing crowds at the Pasadena Museum. An attractive catalog to the exhibition with tributes by Leavitt, Frank O’Hara, Sam Hunter and Barbara Guest arouses some deserved excitement for the man and his art. An excerpt reprinted from Art in America entitled “What a Museum Should Be” by Motherwell shows him to be a good guy with sound sense. In scope, the exhibition generally covers the period from the impressionable war years to the present, and includes his much discussed collages as well as drawings and major paintings. Seeing these works in profusion emphasizes a personal conflict Motherwell seems not to have transcended; it is the struggle of head vs. heart. As one of the leading spokesmen for the abstract-expressionists (who exalt intuitive painting) Motherwell is surprisingly inhibited as a “feeler” of paint. He is more of an idea man than an executioner and his powers of executing things without conscious reasoning seem limited. Even in his highest painted attainments such as Two Figures With Cerulian Blue Stripe or Elegy to the Spanish Republic XI, he has thought his paintings out rather than painted them through. The “feeling” has been compromised by the “thinking.” If there is automatism here it has the effect of being intellectually pre-determined; his tentativenesses are “perfect” and his inquiries studied and sophisticated. Perhaps he is basically afraid to paint paint, to make himself vulnerable to the unknown impulses of the subconscious for which he only whets our appetites on such a grandiose scale. This is why some of the smaller works, like the collages, are more significant than the larger ones. The material of their creation, by its very nature, is suggestive of formality and the possibilities of choice and reason rather than intuition and impulse. Motherwell is relatively young as far as artists of maturity go. It will be interesting to see his next exhibition, which we hope will not take as long in coming as did the first, to observe if and how one of our most influential artists works his way out of this schizophrenic dilemma.

Arthur Secunda