What Happened to Motherwell’s Pink?

© Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; used with permission

Robert Motherwell, “Pancho Villa Dead and Alive,” 1943 (MOMA/Dedalus Foundation)

Should collage artists worry about papers fading over time?  This question was prompted by a hugely informative post by artist/teacher Nancy Nikkal about the  recent Robert Motherwell exhibition at MOMA —  which I blogged about in “How Robert Motherwell Lost His Dada Cred.”

So…did Motherwell coat his papers on both sides with PVA?  I don’t think they even had PVA in 1946.  But should I be using it now?

Not being an art school grad, I have wondered about  this issue.  Some collage instruction books tell you it’s essential to protect your papers unchanged for eternity.  Was I being too lackadaisical about this?

Robert Motherwell, “Gauloises Bleu”

Motherwell sometimes avoided the problem by using a collage as the basis of a print, as in the two versions of “Gauloises Bleu,” above.   Cigarette packs — though collaged by Picasso — are not made of archival paper.

My eyes were opened on this subject by an amazing book I discovered on remainder some years ago.   Written by a museum conservator,  Stefan Gotz,  it’s called American Artists in Their New York Studios.     (Get it for $8 at ABE.)

Gotz asked NY artists in the 1980’s  (from the young Chuck Close to others now forgotten) about their treatment of paper in their works.  Did they make sure it was archival?  Were they concerned about how it would hold up over time?  The answers ranged from “obsessively” to “who cares?”

Robert Motherwell, "Surprise and Inspiration," 1943

Robert Motherwell, “Surprise and Inspiration,” 1943

Motherwell’s attitude was closer to the latter.  As Nikkal points out in her blog article, over the last 50-70 years, Motherwell’s colors have faded. The strong pink is now pale flesh.

Nikkal explores Motherwell’s materials and techniques (she was lucky enough to see this exhibition in the aforementioned flesh)– and more about his Exquisite Corpses.  Here’s that link to her blog again.

I’ve got one more post on Motherwell, in which I use the above collage “Surprise and Inspiration” as the surprising inspiration for…..fashion. Watch for “Turn This Collage Into an Outfit,”    coming soon.


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