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Exhibition - Pollock and Motherwell: Legends of Abstract Expressionism

Friday, Aug 25, 2017 at 10:00am

The Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111


Mural, Pollock’s largest-ever canvas, was commissioned in 1943 by famed art collector and dealer Peggy Guggenheim for her New York City apartment and helped launch him to international acclaim. Mural is a complex fusion of brushstrokes and splatters. An array of vivid colors weaves across the canvas while calligraphic forms of dark brown divide the repetitive composition. Pollock later recalled that the painting’s imagery is that of a Western stampede. Other scholars claim totemic figures march across the surface. Mural marked a turning point for Pollock, with its vigorous abstraction, massive scale, and bold freedom. In 1948 Guggenheim gifted the painting to the University of Iowa. It underwent a two-year conservation effort by The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles beginning in 2012.

Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126 is among the most elegant works of his career due to its vastness and thoughtful integration of color. The painting is a unique salute to Pollock. In 1972, the director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art commissioned the painting to hang with and visually respond to Mural’s monumental size. While many interpretations exist, Elegy’s theme explores the challenges and tensions of modern life. Ovals confined between vertical elements may symbolize remembrances of life and death. The composition is full of contrasts­–straight and curved forms, black and white paint, brushy and pooled pigment. The title laments the war-torn demise of the Spanish Republic and the following conflict of World War II.

In an era of celebrity, Pollock and Motherwell fashioned memorable personas to elevate their status in the art world and popular culture. Investigations by art historians and conservators have since revealed new insights into the artists’ lives, their paintings, and the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Abstract Expressionism was never a formalized art movement but instead was characterized by individualism, freedom, and a break from tradition in technique and subject. Centered in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s, artists embraced emotion and non-representational forms. They shared a mixture of ideas including interest in existential philosophy, Jungian psychology, the romantic sublime, and art from around the globe.

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