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Madrid exhibition

Motherwell and the Poets
(Octavio Paz and Rafael Alberti)

July 20 – September 1, 2012

Litografía de Robert Motherwell
Litografía de Robert Motherwell perteneciente al grupo de litografías que ilustran el poema Piel/Sonido del mundo de Octavio Paz (1981–82)

This summer in Madrid, the Fundación Juan March presents the exhibition Motherwell and the Poets (Octavio Paz and Rafael Alberti), which will be open for viewing starting on Friday, July 20, until September 1, 2012, Monday through Friday, from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm, and Saturday, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm.


Robert Motherwell (1915—1991) was a decisive figure in American Abstract Expressionism and the so-called New York School. A writer and editor in addition to being a painter, Motherwell always felt a keen attraction to European culture, in particular that of Spain. Throughout his career he felt closely connected to the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War, a subject that he paid homage to in his famous series of works titled Elegy to the Spanish Republic, and, as is evident in this exhibition, he also created prints to illustrate poems by Rafael Alberti like El negro (Black) and A la pintura (To Painting).

Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
The Mexican Octavio Paz (1914–1998), meanwhile, was a prolific essayist and poet, as well as a professor, translator, and diplomat. He collaborated actively and insistently on promoting culture through numerous journals he founded and contributed to, including Taller, Plural, and Vuelta. The Nobel Prize for Literature he received in 1990 represented universal acknowledgement of his accomplishments. Rafael Alberti (1902–1999), a Spanish poet, writer, and playwright and a member of the Generation of 1927, is considered to be one of the greatest writers of the so-called Silver Age of Spanish literature.


Photo of Vrindaban
Vrindaban, 1965
Octavio Paz

This small exhibition, comprising holdings in the Fundación Juan March's collection, historical archive, and library, as well as some items on loan from private collections, aims to show aspects of the relationships Motherwell —an admirer of the literature of Spain and literature in Spanish— established with Rafael Alberti and Octavio Paz. It is divided into three narrative sections.

The first of these, titled "Robert Motherwell: Three Poems by Octavio Paz," presents twenty-seven lithographs by the American artist that partially illustrate three poems by the Mexican writer, printed between 1981 and 1982. Paz published the three poems —"Nocturno de San Ildefonso", "Vuelta" and "Piel/Sonido del mundo"— in 1976, though he had written the third of these in 1971 after seeing Motherwell's work. The texts, in Spanish and English, were printed in two colors on Arches paper. The twenty-seven lithographs —four in color— were published by Trestle Editions (New York).

Photo of Rafael Alberti y Robert Motherwell
Rafael Alberti y Robert Motherwell en la
exposición "Robert Motherwell" celebrada en
la Fundación Juan March en 1980.

The second section, "El Negro: Rafael Alberti", presents the artist's book El Negro, with lithographs by the artist and the poem "El Negro" by Alberti, which the poet had written and recited on the occasion of the inaugural ceremony for the first monographic exhibition devoted to Motherwell in Spain, organized by the Fundación Juan March in 1980. The section includes documents and photographs from that event as well as an audiovisual installation with Alberti's reading of the poem and images from the book, El Negro, with the poem by Alberti illustrated by Motherwell.


ver vídeo
Vídeo: El negro. Motherwell

Finally, the third section, "Octavio Paz and the Book that Creates", brings together copies of books by Paz from the "Biblioteca Julio Cortázar". Representing the library that the Argentinian writer had in his Paris residence and that his widow, Aurora Bernárdez, donated to the Fundación Juan March in 1993, the collection comprises 3,894 titles, including books, magazines and press clippings. The close friendship between Paz and Cortázar is evident in the dedications the Mexican writer wrote to his Argentinean colleague in his books. Some of the books by Paz in Cortázar's collection have been selected for this show, either because of their thematic relevance (some of which are directly related to the subject of contemporary art) or because they contain visual poems or ingenious experiments halfway between text and image.

The relationship between the artist's work and the two poets' writings in this exhibition does not simply serve to reflect the circumstances of their lives and the ways in which they intersected in the 1970s and 1980s. Their relationships are presented here also as a highly characteristic example of literature and painting as universes of images that point to other images and texts that point to other texts—a situation that is closely tied to the history of contemporary art and of poetry in Spanish in the twentieth century. In this sense, while Motherwell "writes" a kind text with an abstract script, Octavio Paz and Rafael Alberti approach the painter's profession in their own way, in striving to paint the words of the poem and of the book, which become artistic forms, objects that signify through visual means. The works of the painter and the poets thus also embody, in this way, the age-old relationship between poetry and painting.

This small show is the latest of a series of encounters that began in 1980 with the exhibition Robert Motherwell, the artist's first in Spain, at the Fundación's headquarters in Madrid, which marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship between Motherwell and the Fundación Juan March.


Other exhibitions on Robert Motherwell at the Fundación Juan March:
Robert Motherwell (En Madrid)
The exhibition focused special attention on Robert Motherwell's works from the 1970s. Except for one 1941 oil (Small Spanish Cell), two paintings from the 1950s, and three from the 1960s, the remaining twenty-four works in the exhibition dated to this decade. Also exhibited were two examples from his celebrated Elegy to the Spanish Republic series, and the book of twenty-one aquatints, A la pintura (To Painting), which accompanied Rafael Alberti's poems. The catalogue featured an abbreviated version of an interview conducted by Barbaralee Diamonstein of the artist in 1979 at the New School for Social Research.

Robert Motherwell: three poems by Octavio Paz (En Cuenca)
The exhibition offered thirty-three lithographs and collages created by the artist during his last fifteen years (1975 to 1991). The selection revealed Motherwell's continuous interest in the Mediterranean and, especially, his passion for Spain. The works were from the Kenneth E. Tyler Collection at Tyler Graphics Ltd., New York. Kenneth Tyler possesses one of the most important graphic art studios in the world, practicing the most modern printing techniques. Artists such as Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and others, frequently worked there. The exhibition included, among other works, El Negro (1983), lithographs with texts by Rafael Alberti; and the series America-La France Variations (1983-84); and Blue Elegy (1987). The catalogue featured various texts by Robert Motherwell.

Motherwell: Graphic Works (1975-1991) (En Cuenca)
The exhibition presented the aforementioned thirty-four sheets of partially illustrated texts from a portfolio of three poems by the Mexican poet, essayist, and Nobel Prize recipient Octavio Paz.