Vienna turns its attention to art across the Atlantic and one of the giants of the New York School and Abstract Expressionism. The Robert Motherwell – Pure Painting exhibition at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien is the first retrospective for the artist in Europe this century.
- Focus on Motherwell’s paintings
- Around 40 works
- Runs Oct 12, 2023 – Jan 14, 2024
- See also:
(Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic, c. 1962/1982, Magna and acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 244.5 cm, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Museum purchase, Friends of Art Endowment Fund © Copyright 2023 Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY)
Abstract Expressionism and the New York School have enjoyed a heavy exhibition presence in recent years in Vienna, finding room among the Old Masters, artists of the Wiener Moderne and the modern and contemporary purveyors of installations and creations that fill the city and its museums.
The venerable Kunsthistorisches Museum had a Mark Rothko exhibition, for example. And Ways of Freedom at the Albertina Modern threw a direct light on the times, the protagonists, and their influence on European developments.
Autumn and winter 2023 sees the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien take things up another level with a retrospective for one of the major representatives of Abstract Expressionism: Robert Motherwell (1915-1991).
The term “New York School” actually came from Motherwell, and the retrospective is Europe’s first for the artist since 1998.
(Robert Motherwell, Summer Open with Mediterranean Blue, 1974, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 122.2 × 274.6 cm, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Museum purchase, Friends of the Art Endowment Fund © Copyright 2023 Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY)
Reading Motherwell’s bio certainly feels intimidating. I shake my fist in frustration at a lot of artists, inspired by jealousy at those who seem to achieve da Vinci-like eminence in various fields.
Painter, printmaker, writer, editor, promoter, intellectual, teacher…the list goes on. You suspect Motherwell probably made great coffee, too.
The exhibition focuses on his paintings and their evolution from early figurative works. It includes samples from the series and cycles most associated with the artist, which he created and reexamined over multiple years.
As Motherwell himself once noted in 1964:
I essentially work by revision. It is very rarely that I paint a picture from beginning to end and that’s it […] in most of my more serious pictures I would guess that they are the result of a great many revisions.
Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic, for example, reveals the hallmarks of his style (see the top photo for an example from the over 100 paintings that actually make up the series).
(Robert Motherwell, Stephen’s Iron Crown, 1981, acrylic on canvas, 223.5 × 305.1 cm, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Museum purchase, Sid W. Richardson Foundation Endowment Fund © Copyright 2023 Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY)
The “Pure Painting” within the formal exhibition title reflects the economy and reserve in much of Motherwell’s work: emotion expressed at its purest.
The exhibition comes to Vienna as a cooperation with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, whose own similarly-titled exhibition ran across summer earlier in 2023. The works on display draw on loans from prestigious institutions in the US, UK, Spain and Germany, for example, as well as private collections.
Dates, tickets & tips
Enjoy a journey through Motherwell’s art from October 12th, 2023 to January 14th, 2024. A ticket for the Kunstforum Wien is, essentially, a ticket for the exhibition; the institution has no permanent display.
Vienna has plenty of other modern and contemporary art exhibitions to keep you out of the cold.
I can particularly recommend Louise Bourgeois at Lower Belvedere. The French-born artist emigrated to the USA around the time Motherwell and colleagues would soon be taking French influences in their own unique direction.
The Kunstforum occupies a corner of the Freyung, so be sure to pop into the Christmas market on the same square during the advent season (you probably won’t find too much in the way of abstract art there, mind you).
How to get there
The Freyung is inside the old town and very central: follow the travel tips in the main Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien article.
Address: Freyung 8, 1010 Vienna