Retrospective: The Satisfactions of Robert Motherwell

And other excerpts from our coverage 100, 75, 50, and 25 years ago

October 30, 1915

October 30, 1915

100 Years Ago

“The Color Line in Art”

Miss Della Raines, originally of the movies, following the example of Miss Mamie Blanha, who went on the stage, has drawn the line at posing before colored students at the Chicago Institute and in consequence will probably return to the realm of the films. Miss Raines is from Dallas, Texas. She was ready to pose when she saw three negro students, and another model had to be substituted. She said that they looked at things in a different way down in Texas. Mr. W. F. Tuttle, assistant secretary of the Institute, said “We are democratic here. We can’t bar any one race. We merely substituted another model.” It is not on record that any chocolate colored Venuses refused to pose for white students.


October 19, 1940

October 19, 1940

75 Years Ago

“51st Street Becomes Downtown,”
by Jeanette Lowe

Downstairs the Lounge Gallery will be just what it is called, and show in a more intimate setting which should take the chill off the usual atmosphere of an uptown gallery, the amusing wood sculptures of William Steig—with frightening comments upon that period in the Age of Man called Elderly—and the gay and subtle ceramics of Carl Walters. The American Folk Art Gallery houses the paintings of the weeping willow period, the chalkware and wooden sculptures with which our ancestors decorated their what-nots and goodness-knows-what. A full length portrait in wood of Henry Clay which once adorned a Hudson River boat is now installed in a niche in this room, softly lighted to emphasize some of the sturdy character traits which seem to be in demand today. One wishes the Gallery a most propitious future in its new surroundings—it will undoubtedly continue its lively progress at it has in the past.

October 1965

October 1965

50 Years Ago

“The Satisfactions of Robert Motherwell,”
by Natalie Edgar

Right there, in the void of abstract painting, where the anxiety of failure shakes an artist and the intensity of success shakes him too, Robert Motherwell introduces the secure and known.

The strength of his style comes from his forms. At first, they may appear “abstract” because they do not represent objects; but they do relate, like feuding cousins, to ideal shapes: the circle, the triangle, the rectangle, the kidney, the arch, the diamond, the automatic splatter—and also to the heart and star. Such shapes are well known either as concepts or clichés. Wanting neither condition, he puts them at a distance where they still reflect the ideal, but are already moving into such areas as the inventive or the abstract—completely opposed to the ideal. They hover over a middle ground. From this hovering they acquire a presence of life. The almost-star could be a starfish, two ovals suggest anatomy, an egg-shape might be an egg, a blot a cocoon, a rumpled paper bag evokes the many lives it passed through, an almost-arch strains to bend more or straighten out, almost-triangle yearns to be perfect. They assume the capability needed to reach their ideals at one extreme, or, at the other extreme, their freedom in abstract invention. From familiar shapes they are transfigured into dramatic images.

October 1990

October 1990

25 Years Ago

“Heavy Metal,”
by Judd Tully

A spirited lobbying effort in Washington over the summer, spearheaded by a New York gallery and a group of committed artists, has apparently succeeded in staving off a total ban on the use of cadmium paints in the United States. The ban was proposed in Congress because cadmium is a carcinogen.

Cadmium pigments are used in a wide range of products, from color-coded electrical wires to motorcycle helmets. Artists account for only a tiny part of the market, and environmentalists and legislators were unaware of cadmium’s importance to them. Since artists and environmentalists rarely clash, both groups were surprised to find themselves on opposite sides of an issue.

Painters say cadmium pigments are essential and irreplaceable. “Artists would be functionally crippled” without them, said painter Jonathan Phillips. “A typical palette is heavily dependent on cadmiums, roughly 50 percent.” A ban would wipe from the palette as many as 15 brilliant red and yellow hues.

A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 96.

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