Robert Motherwell: A Centennial Celebration


November 21, 2015–March 27, 2016

Robert Motherwell (1915–1991) helped forge a new vision of painting that established Abstract Expressionism at the vanguard of post-war painting and transformed New York into the epicenter of the art world in the second half of the twentieth-century. Drawn from the holdings of the Archives of American Art, this exhibition marks the centennial of his birth.

A painter, collagist, teacher, and writer, Motherwell was also regarded as the primary spokesman of the New York School—a term he coined in 1949. Born on January 24, 1915 in Aberdeen, Washington, Motherwell’s childhood was spent in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. After graduating from Stanford University he studied philosophy at Harvard and art history at Columbia, before dropping out to devote himself to painting in 1941. Through his friendships with the European artists in exile in New York during World War II, Motherwell was exposed to diverse strains of European modernism, from Surrealist automatism to the abstraction of Mondrian, along with works by Picasso, Matisse and Miró. He drew on these influences to shape a personal language that emphasized the direct expression in his chosen mediums of a complex and personal subject matter.

This selection of photographs, letters, posters, catalogs and essays including early drafts, illuminates his many roles, as well as the personal relationships that shaped Motherwell’s career and his impact on the history of modern art in the twentieth-century.

Tim Clifford 
Guest Curator