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Robert Motherwell, Open No. 16: In Ultramarine with Charcoal Line, 1968, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 8' 3 1/2“ × 15' 6 1/2”. © Estate of Robert Motherwell/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Robert Motherwell

Andrea Rosen Gallery

Robert Motherwell, Open No. 16: In Ultramarine with Charcoal Line, 1968, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 8' 3 1/2“ × 15' 6 1/2”. © Estate of Robert Motherwell/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

“Although he is underrated today, in my opinion he was one of the very best of the Abstract Expressionist painters.” Clement Greenberg’s widely cited assessment of Robert Motherwell’s work from 1991 is generally perceived as high praise, though its careful formulation corresponds to my own sense of restraint about the artist’s work, even when faced with this selection of “Opens,” 1967–74, arguably the painter’s most daring thematic group.

This ambivalence may owe in part to reasons more biographical than visual. Unlike the majority of his Abstract Expressionist confrères, so marked by first-generation angst, autodidacticism, decades of poverty, and a tragic consciousness (arising from the Great Depression and the horrors of World War II), Motherwell was a child of California wealth and privilege. He was passed over for military service during World War II (because of his debilitating

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