Robert Motherwell Found Unlikely Inspiration in Architecture
A new solo exhibition on the artist at Kasmin gallery in New York takes a second look at the Abstract Expressionist painter
By Katherine McGrath
As one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Robert Motherwell was nothing if not ambitious. "It took a lot of courage for Motherwell to make these," remarks Kasmin gallery's director Eric Gleason, as he gestures towards the sweeping canvases pinned to the gallery's walls. "When he was making these, there just weren't very many big spaces to show them. He knew he would be sacrificing visibility for a lot of these." Given the sheer abundance of galleries and art spaces in New York City alone—throw a stone in Chelsea and you're apt to hit a white cube—it's difficult to imagine that there weren't many spaces to show 9" tall paintings in 1970's New York, but aside from Sidney Janis and Marlborough Gallery, such was the case.
Though in 2019, the exhibition of Motherwell's large-scale works, Sheer Presence: Monumental Paintings by Robert Motherwell, feels perfectly suited for the space. "I was having lunch with Paul [Kasmin] one day a few years back, and he pointed out this space from the street," says Morgan Spangle, vice president and treasurer of the Dedalus Foundation, which Motherwell set up a decade before his death to foster the support of modern art. Spangle is referencing Kasmin's newest Chelsea space at 509 West 27th street that opened late last year; designed by Markus Dochantschi of studioMDA, the gallery is generous with space and flooded with natural sunlight. "When he told me about it, I thought, 'what a great venue to show big paintings!' A show like this is unprecedented, because it's a logistical nightmare with works of this size. You've simply got to have the space for it," says Spangle. Though most galley buildings at the time were small, Motherwell and his contemporaries had institutional ambition; soon, larger exhibition spaces were built to accommodate their work.