Provincetown Art Association and Museum
460 Commercial Street
Through September 30
THIRTEEN YEARS AFTER HIS PASSING IN THE TOWN HE CALLED HOM FOR WELL OVER 40 SUMMERS, ROBERT MOTHERWELLCOMES BACK TO PROVINCETOWN WITH "BESIDE THE SEA," A LONG- OVERDUE EXHIBITION AT THE PROVINCETOWN ART ASSOCIATION AND MUSEUM (PAAM) THAT'S ASSURED, QUIETLY RESTRAINED AND, IF NOT QUITE PROFOUND, STILL DEEPLY SATISFYING. WHEN PAAM FIRST OPENED THE DOORS TO ITS NEWLY EXPANDED EXHIBITION SPACE IN 2004, IT WAS ALWAYS WITH AN EYE TO HOSTING THIS: THE FIRST MAJOR VIEWING OF MOTHERWELL'S WORK IN THE LOCATION THAT COERCED AND FED ITS CREATION. ALL OF THE WORK HERE WAS MADE IN PROVINCETOWN.
Curated with insight and feeling by Daniel Ranalli and Lise Motherwell, the exhibition concentrates its 25 works around 10 selections from “Beside the Sea,” a series Motherwell began 50 years ago after observing the shots of irascible ocean spray that would cast itself off the bulkhead of his waterfront studio during stormy high tides. Motherwell always seemed to work best within minimally restrained parameters, and the “Beside the Sea” series is no different. Adopting nature’s volatility, Motherwell unfurls his own black, blue and green paint splatters against a matrix of one to three horizontal bars, broad strokes painted in dark serious tonalities that bisect the lower half of the painting, anchoring the serendipitous blasts of paint that careen and rise forth.
Scattered throughout the two galleries, these wonderfully vital paintings neatly define the exhibition, but there’s still surprising diversity in the selection, including work from his magisterial “Open” series and the last collage he ever made, “Blue Guitar” (1990). Handsomely installed with the right amount of distance and openness the work demands, it reinforces the notion that, among other things, Motherwell was a painter of space par excellence. He may not possess a cult of personality like his peers Pollock and de Kooning, but he still has a sense of epic grandeur seen in paintings like “Beside the Sea with Bulkhead” (1962), a low-slung, 6’ x 9’ canvas powered by its own elegant strength.
Much of the work is defined by Motherwell’s self-effacing intelligence, guiding its conception and execution. Certainly one of the most articulate artists of his generation, sometimes his learned visual acumen permeates the work to the point of feeling a little tamped down. There’s a guarded quality to paintings such as “Summer Seaside Night” (1974-ca. 1976) and “Summer Seaside Doorway” (1971) that appears to riff upon Matisse’s “Window at Collioure” (1914), but without any of the lyrical sense of discovery that’s in the Matisse. The paintings come across as cautiously predetermined.