02 November 2006

Art & Politics?: Motherwell's Elegies

"I have consistently made ... numerous 'abstract' works ... such as the series of pictures with black ovals and stripes on white grounds that have the collective title Elegies to the Spanish Republic, though I have no special interest in politics." - Robert Motherwell (1959)

Elegy for the Spanish Republic #34 (1953-4)
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) was an influential artist among the group of Abstract Expressionists that emerged in NYC in the 1930s and 1940s. This is the version of his series of Elegies for the Spanish Republic in the collection at the Albright-Knox Museum in Buffalo. I am unsure precisely how many of the Elegies Motherwell actually painted, but he began drawing and painting them in the late 1940s (#1 is dated 1948), he produced #110 in 1971 and, to the best of my knowledge, kept doing going until late in his life. I also am unsure whether each of the numbers is roughly the same size or not, but #34 is quite a large canvas (80 x 100 inches).
So there is the perplexity. Why would someone with "no special interest in politics" produce so many large works over the course of decades with this quite explicitly political title? Why, having produced so many such paintings, would the artist feel the need to deflect attention from the seemingly political dimensions of his work as Motherwell clearly is concerned to do? (Conversely, of course, one might, as Richard Serra did with his "Stop Bush," deny that clearly political work is art.) I don't get this.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were the reactions to his work affected by his "nonpolitical" statements? I'd suggest perhaps his expectation of the reactions might have played into his decision, though it seems the sheer span of time involved would have neutralized any edginess.

03 November, 2006 07:09  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

I really am not sure about the reception of the work except that all these Elegies seem to have ended up in "big" collections. I thought for a while that the disconencct might've been because fo teh conservative political climate of the 40s and 50s. But why not simply stop painting such worlks or at least title them differently? The entire thing simply strikes me as odd. (Actually, it seems common among artists to do things that seem clearly political and then deny that they are ...).

03 November, 2006 13:55  

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