Robert Motherwell - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Robert Motherwell & Dore Ashton

    We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men
    Learning together
    Headpiece filled with straw
    T.S. Elliot, excerpt from The Hollow Men, 1925

    Robert Motherwell's Untitled is an exquisite drawing that was gifted directly by the artist to Dore Ashton (1928-2017), the noted art historian and critic behind some of the earliest and most insightful histories of The New York School. Executed in 1984, it relates to the Hollow Men series, the last body of work that would occupy the artist before his passing in 1991 and was titled in reference to T.S. Elliot's eponymous poem. As such, Untitled  is testament to the deep friendship between Motherwell and Ashton, kindred spirits and intellectuals who shared a keen interest in and knowledge of literature and philosophy. 


     Dore Ashton.

    Born in 1928, Ashton was a generation apart from such influential (male) critics as Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg and paved a distinct path for herself as a reviewer for noted publications such as Art International, The Art Bulletin and The New York Times. Known for her razor-sharp writing, Dore Ashton notably was one of the key critics who lived and breathed the very art scene she was observing. She wrote extensively on Motherwell, offering key insights into his practice. As she beautifully wrote of the immediacy of the artist's drawings, "...he defines drawing as 'a racing yacht, cutting through the ocean,' while 'painting is the ocean itself...'" (Dore Ashton, The Writings of Robert Motherwell, Berkeley, 2007). 

    A trusted champion of artists such as Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, Ashton not only recorded, but also inhabited the scene: she not only visited artists in their studios, but was a part of their circle drinking and talking in their Downtown New York haunts. While Ashton would come to pen remarkable studies on individual artists such as Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Joseph Cornell, she is perhaps best known for her landmark publications The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning that was published in 1973. Including first-hand accounts of her own interactions with the artists and critics consituting the movement of Abstract Expressionism, Ashton's book eloquently provided a coherent philosophical framework.

    • Provenance

      Dore Ashton, New York (gifted by the artist)
      Private Collection, Midwest (acquired from the above)

    • Artist Biography

      Robert Motherwell

      American • 1915 - 1991

      One of the youngest proponents of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Robert Motherwell rose to critical acclaim with his first solo exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery in 1944. Not only was Motherwell one of the major practicing Abstract Expressionist artists, he was, in fact, the main intellectual driving force within the movement—corralling fellow New York painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hoffman and William Baziotes into his circle. Motherwell later coined the term the "New York School", a designation synonymous to Abstract Expressionism that loosely refers to a wide variety of non-objective work produced in New York between 1940 and 1960.

      During an over five-decade-long career, Motherwell created a large and powerful body of varied work that includes paintings, drawings, prints and collages. Motherwell's work is most generally characterized by simple shapes, broad color contrasts and a dynamic interplay between restrained and gestural brushstrokes. Above all, it demonstrates his approach to art-making as a response to the complexity of lived, and importantly felt, experience.

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signed with the artist's initials "RM" upper left
graphite and clear acrylic on paper
11 1/2 x 14 1/2 in. (29.2 x 36.8 cm)
Executed in 1984.

This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of drawings by Robert Motherwell being produced by the Dedalus Foundation.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $23,750

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 2 July 2020