Titled "Robert Motherwell on Paper: Gesture, Variation, Continuity," the exhibition was conceived in collaboration with the artist shortly before his death in 1991. It features 135 drawings, prints and collages, many unpublished or rarely exhibited before.
"In our conversations during his last year, he said he would like to have seen more of his works on paper publicly displayed," said the exhibition's curator, David Rosand, the Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia. "This is an appropriate memorial tribute to the last and most articulate of the heroic generation of Abstract Expressionists."
A 208-page catalogue with more than 100 color plates, edited by Professor Rosand, has been published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the Wallach Art Gallery.
The works on view were created over 40 years, between 1948 and 1989, and display the artist's development of themes, both in concentrated series and in repeated expressions over time. Among the series represented are six of Motherwell's commanding Night Music collages of torn rice paper on black, created in 1989, and 24 dramatic ink paintings on rice paper from the series Lyric Suite, made in 1965. A recurring image developed over the years is the artist's well-known arrangement of black oval and rectangular forms called Elegies to the Spanish Republic, eight of which, dating from 1948 to 1983, appear in the exhibition.
Such serial creation and thematic continuity in his works on paper helped Motherwell develop what Professor Rosand calls "an iconography of the self."
When the Columbia professor and Stephen Addiss, the Tucker Boatwright Professor in the Humanities at the University of Richmond, first proposed the exhibition, Motherwell "responded immediately with enthusiasm," said Professor Rosand. In the exhibition book's preface, he recalls: "During our visits to the artist's Greenwich, Connecticut, studio - especially our final one, a few weeks before his death - the conversation often turned to paper, which he called 'the most sympathetic of all painting surfaces.' And, of course, to the marking implement: 'In the beginning was the brush,' as he had declared with scriptural authority on another occasion. In reviewing his own work with us in his studio, Motherwell delighted in rediscovering himself in those images, reviving and renewing the energies that created them."
Essayists in the catalogue include Arthur C. Danto, Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia; Mary Ann Caws, Distinguished Professor of French and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York, and Professors Addiss and Rosand.
The chair Professor Rosand occupies at Columbia is named for Meyer Schapiro, the legendary Columbia art historian with whom Motherwell studied as a graduate student in 1940 and who effectively set Motherwell on his course as an artist.
The majority of works in the exhibition are from the Dedalus Foundation. The Wallach Art Gallery is in Schermerhorn Hall on Columbia's Morningside Heights campus in New York City. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 5 P.M. until March 29, 1997. Admission is free.