In the competitive throng of Berlin Gallery Weekend, when oily black BMWs shuttle well-heeled collectors around town all in search of the best party, Kunsthalle Koidl hosted an intimate gathering of friends and art lovers. The occasion was the opening night of “Robert Motherwell Masterprints”, an exhibition of print works from the Abstract Expressionist—the American artist who really should have been European.
The show could not have come at a better time. The artist, so long in the shadow of his illustrious contemporaries, is in the midst of a long overdue renaissance. Unlike the “proletarian blue-collar paint-flinger” Jackson Pollock, Motherwell was genteel and brainy, and while the Abstract Expressionists died tragically young in car crashes or drug overdoses, he lived long and prospered.
Yet for all his learning and erudition, Motherwell’s greatest works have an astounding visual potency, a harnessing of spontaneity and introspection, that enabled him to engage with his deepest, innermost feelings. Luckily co-hosting the event is the writer and gallery owner Bernard Jacobson, who is not only a world expert on Motherwell but also his primary dealer and thus doubly happy to hear of the artist’s resurgence—“Motherwell”, according to him, “is like tapping into a gold mine that hasn’t been really dealt with.”
When Motherwell was born in 1915, American art was completely in the shadow of European art. Fifty years later the situation had completely reversed. A reversal that can be laid at the feet of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists of which Motherwell was in many ways its beating heart. He was the most eloquent, the most literate, and the most alive to the influences of the past.
During the long winter of 1948, a couple of weeks after his first wife Maria had left him for a Long Island neighbor, Motherwell began work on a series of paintings now among the most celebrated works of post-war American art. Snowed in to his New York studio and working fervently day and night, he finished two paintings one of which was black and white. These stark canvases featuring ovoid shapes and bar-like rectilinear forms were unlike anything he had made before. Dissatisfied with their direction, his first impulse was to destroy them but was persuaded against it by a fellow painter. One of these paintings, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 1, now hangs in MoMA in New York, a first step in a series of 200 works which would preoccupy the artist for the rest of his life.
There are three works from his Elegy series included in the show at the Kunsthalle, works that were dedicated to the sacrifices made during the Spanish Civil War—the first great conflict that played out between democracy and fascism in the 20th Century. At a time when democracy in the western world appears to be on an inexorable wash backwards, Motherwell’s works are more pertinent than ever, paying tribute to those who fell in defense of democracy’s dream.
In fact the master printworks now hanging in the modernist (anti-splendor) of a renovatated substation, provide a refreshing alternative to the Berlin art world’s pursuit of all that is new and shiny. And despite his busy schedule Johann König—our recent collaborator alongside Süddeutsche Zeitung on the special Jorinde Voigt edition—arrived and fell almost immediately into conversation with Peer Steinbrück, the former German Federal Minister of Finance, and Rezzo Schlauch, former parliamentary floor leader of the German Green Party, on the question of “exhaustion”—a subject close to all our hearts ahead of this bustling weekend of art.
Dieter von Graffenried, co-founder of Parkett was keen to talk about the future possibilities of the online art market, having recently announced the closure of the printed edition of his acclaimed Swiss art magazine. Then just before dinner was served Roman Maria Koidl, entrepreneur and founder of Kunsthalle Koidl, introduced the exhibition to the assembled crowd, clearly delighted that this, the first exhibition in a series of collaborations with fineartmultiple’s gallery partners, had got off to a cracking start.
The selection of works was chosen by Bernard Jacobson's Gallery Director Constance Aehlig, to reflect the astonishing developments of Robert Motherwell’s art during his trailblazing career. As well as his Elegy series, included are his famous summer collages as well as the black splatter lithograph Bathos, 1975—a work on such a monumental scale, it has the impact of his most powerful canvases. All in all the exhibition will be remembered as one that formed a fascinating link between the digital art world and the empiric Bauhaus setting of the Kunsthalle. And above everything else was the privilege of viewing the work of this great modern master in the flesh.
“Robert Motherwell: Masterprints”, Kunsthalle Koidl, Gervinusstrasse 34, 10629 Berlin-Charlottenburg, runs until June 24th, 2017. For more information please contact us on [email protected] or +49 (0) 30 2363 0280. The Kunsthalle Koidl is open from Wednesday through to Saturday from 2pm to 6pm. Special opening times during Berlin Gallery Weekend, Sunday, April 30th, 2017, from 2pm to 6pm.