Design Vs. Art

12.19.13

Pollock and Motherwell Stole From Wallpaper Makers

At the Guggenheim, Robert Motherwell's collages depend on patterns by others.

"Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive", made by Robert Motherwell in 1943, is from the lovely show of his early collages now at the Guggenheim in New York. That spotted surface glued on at right is identified as "German decorative paper", and must have existed already before Motherwell began his piece. It brings up one of the most interesting outstanding issues around Abstract Expressionist art: Were many of its classic devices, such as messy alloverism, already favorites in the decorative arts? The AbEx-ers were accused by their critics of "just making wallpaper" or "just producing tie fabrics" – which would seem to imply that the designers of wallpaper and ties had already discovered some elements of  AbEx style.

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