This essay was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum for its exhibition of the collages of the artist Robert Motherwell between 1941 and 1951, the majority of which are in private hands and have never been exhibited together. They are significant in being the first substantial body of collage-paintings made at easel-painting scale in Western modernism; because they were made alongside and within a generation of celebrated painters including Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes, Mark Rothko and others; and because they embody the formative experiments that created Motherwell's signature style. I was asked to construct a picture of Motherwell's debts to European artists and art during the 1940s. The essay does not only this, but posits a particularly strong debt to European existential philosophy and writings, which is post-Pearl Harbour America were appearing in America in translation for the first time, as well as lending themselves to America's own versions of existentialism published in Partisan Review and other places . Motherwell's concept of 'risk' turns out to be the vital hinge upon which he and many of his less well-read colleagues in the New York School based their painting practice. 'Giving risk a style' in Motherwell's own phrase, was the manner in which these paper-and-paint works of the 1950s were conceived and executed. The exhibition took place at the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice during June and July 2013 to coincide with the 2013 Venice Biennale and transferred to the Guggenheim Museum, New York, for the autumn of 2013.
|Title of host publication||Robert Motherwell|
|Subtitle of host publication||The Early Collages|
|Place of Publication||New York and Venice|
|Publisher||Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York and Venice|
|Publication status||Published - 2013|