Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
Andy Williams: An American Legend
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)

A Strange Kind of Music

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)
A Strange Kind of Music
signed and dated 'R. Motherwell 1981' (on the reverse)
acrylic and charcoal on canvas
88 x 120 in. (223.5 x 304.8 cm.)
Painted in 1981.
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Anon. sale; Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 2 May 1985, lot 66
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
H.H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York 1982, p. 226, fig. 316 (illustrated in artist's studio).
C. Ratcliff, "Architectural Digest Visits: Andy Williams," Architectural Digest, July 1987, p. 40 (illustrated in color).
J. Flam, K. Rogers and T. Clifford, Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1941-1991, Volume Two: Paintings on Canvas and Panel, New Haven and London, 2012, p. 500, no. P1031 (illustrated in color).
Knoedler & Company, New York, Robert Motherwell: A Selection from Current Work, February-March 1982, catalogue no. 10.

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Jennifer Yum
Jennifer Yum

Lot Essay

Robert Motherwell's deep level of engagement with abstraction never wavered during his long career. From his earliest works from the 1940s to works up to the late 1980s, Motherwell sought to plumb the depths of abstraction's plastic qualities. After his major commission of the Reconciliation Elegy for the National Gallery of Art in 1977, a monumentally scaled work in stark black and white, Motherwell, several years later, continued this choice of palette but in a more intimate and poetic way.
A Strange Kind of Music possesses several references to poetry and literature that Motherwell loved, and the effect of that kind of layering is key to understanding his work. The title refers to James Joyce's Ulysses, "No use humming then. Allude to it. Strange kind of music that last night" (J. Joyce, Ulysses, London, 1968, p. 84), wherein which the protagonist Leopold Bloom goes about one day, June 16, 1904, paralleling the structure of Homer's Odysseus. The novel was heralded as a Modernist text where its stream-of-consciousness and pushing the limits of conventional English were considered to be revolutionary devices.

In the present work, the large white background is activated by architectonic brushstrokes in black acrylic paint that speeds its way across the surface. Lines lean at angles and twists of the brush are evident in the seemingly simple composition. Yet the repetition for the form on the left is shown as a free standing structure, but shown again this time, as a scaffold in the central shape shows that there is complexity of the image.
Motherwell's significant claim to Modernism shown in the present is evident by his dexterous referencing modern poetry and novels in his decidedly non-referential, abstract paintings. His devotion to abstraction as the means of extracting meaning without description and to elevate feeling to the state of the sublime suffuses A Strange Kind of Music.

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