173 East 94th St. / Chausee de Waterloo 550
By Alex Bacon
173 E 94th St. / Chaussée de Waterloo 550
October 17 – December 6, 2014
Curated by Alex Bacon
In collaboration with Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
Middlemarch, in collaboration with the Paul Kasmin Gallery, is pleased to present an exhibition curated by Alex Bacon: “173 E 94th St. / Chaussée de Waterloo 550.” Referencing the New York City apartment where seminal Abstract Expressionist artist Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) lived from 1953 to 1971, and the domestic site of Middlemarch, this exhibition brings together work by twenty emerging and established contemporary artists who have risen to the challenge of entering into a dialogue with Motherwell’s enduring legacy. The casual and spontaneous, but often serious and penetrating conversations about art, aesthetics, and ideas that frequently occurred in Motherwell’s home—throughout which art, by himself and others, was installed—provides the inspiration for this exhibition in an intimate apartment space.
Motherwell’s legacy is considered here in terms of both the formal and intellectual issues explored in his artwork, and in regards to the stakes for abstraction he established in his writing. Under this umbrella a selection of some of the most significant artists working abstractly today have been brought together, and through this rigorous lens what is foregrounded is the complex conversation they are having amongst themselves, with other artists, with larger social and political issues, and with history. This is an urgently necessary framing in a time when contemporary abstraction is often reductively considered as either somehow out of time and naively historically unaware, or as a canny rehashing of tired modernist tropes. By bringing into the conversation a figure such as Motherwell clarity is given to the kind of debt a younger generation might owe to the past, as well as proposing what new issues are raised by this recent work.
All of this is suggested visually on the walls of Middlemarch. Two classic works on paper from the 1960s by Motherwell (lent by the Fondation Roi Baudouin, Brussels) anchor the selection by twenty younger artists. Surveying the grouping installed throughout the space, it is left open to the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions from considering the works on view. All of the artists are unified in their decision to actively take up the challenge of making a work, or group of works, in relation to Motherwell’s legacy.
Despite the deliberately open-ended, dialogic premise of the exhibition, most all of the artists have chosen to engage Motherwell’s precedents directly, working through, in a contemporary way, some of the elder artist’s favored and recurrent formal and intellectual concerns. The breadth of work on view by these artists in turn points back to the great diversity and depth of Motherwell’s over five decade long career.
For example, numerous artists, from Will Boone, to Don Voisine, to Jessica Sanders have explored the Motherwellian trope of having one or more forms take over most of the field, and in doing so pushing the boundaries of geometric and biomorphic form. Others, like Landon Metz, Dean Levin, and Nathlie Provosty echo the sparser of Motherwell’s fields, taking on that same hybrid language of organic and structured form to generate more lyrical compositions. Many of the artists have found much to engage with in Motherwell’s approach to collage, which can be found in Boone’s work, as well as in Darja Bagajic’s video piece, Nikholis Planck’s assemblages of the past two years of studio debris, Zak Kitnick’s juxtaposition of loose graphite marks and printed samples of appropriated stock advertising imagery of fruits and vegetables, Andrew J Greene’s solitaire collage, and Ethan Cook’s mounted piece of hammered gold.
Additional artists have taken on Motherwell’s signature means of mark-making, as in the quick, but bold strokes of Aaron Bobrow’s drawings, Michael Manning’s computer generated paintings, Bas van den Hurk’s painting, and Max Frintrop’s paintings and works on paper. The complex ways that Motherwell handled pictorial space in various series can be seen in Keltie Ferris’s dense spatial layerings, Paul Cowan’s expansive, minimally inflected surfaces that are broken up only by a few choicely placed fishing lures, and the nearly monochromatic surfaces of Cook and Frintrop. Still others explore the Surrealist notions of automatism and automatic gestures that grounded Motherwell’s painterly approach from the start, such as Antoine Donzeaud’s flipped paintings of older, representational works reversed, the turpentine and oil seeping through to generate the composition, Graham Collins’s stitching together of multiple found antique canvases, and Cory Scozzari’s quick, fluid marks over generic, placeless iPhone photographs of bodies of water.
Despite the direct connections that can be traced between all of the artists’ work and Motherwell’s, the hope is that this very specific conversation can be expanded to a rigorous consideration of the relevance of those problematics today, as well as in what other ways the artists may move away from, and even critique Motherwell’s precedent.
This exhibition is presented concurrently with Robert Motherwell: Works on Paper 1951-1991 at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, which will be on view from October 30th, 2014 - January 3rd, 2015.