Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York 2016.

Art of the Month Club: Janet Curran

The Art of the Month Club is a regular feature on the WCMA blog. Each month we invite someone special to write about a work from our collection. We enjoy engaging with a variety of people through this feature. Find your own favorite WCMA artwork by searching our collection database. You never know, we may invite you to be the next Art of the Month Club member. Today, please welcome, Janet Curran, Managing Director, Images Cinema.


Robert Motherwell, (American, 1915-1991), Open No. 175, acrylic on canvas. Gift of Sylvia and Joseph Slifka. (M.2004.4.5) © Daedalus/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY_x345

Robert Motherwell’s painting, Open No. 175, used to hang right at the entrance of the ground floor gallery at WCMA, and I would see it every time I was in the museum, which used to be quite often. I would often use the museum as a shortcut from Route 2, through the Berkshire Quad, down to Spring Street, but I would always look at this painting and feel struck by its bold simplicity, and then feel mystified at something beyond my understanding. Even the artist’s name seemed rich with meaning and mystery.

This image has stuck with me for a long time, and I was sad when the museum cycled the painting out of display. (Now that I think about it, that might even by the reason why I don’t use WCMA as a shortcut anymore.) I love the bright splash of yellow, the vertical orientation of the canvas, and the vertical bars falling downward through the top part of yellow field like a waterfall. Yet despite the bright color and the sense of movement, there is a conflicting darkness hiding in the painting that unsettles me. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. Like the best David Lynch films, there is liveliness and light, but also dark shadows.

This painting is the first abstract expressionist painting I ever saw and really loved right away, rather than merely appreciating. It’s interesting to me, how movies are something we automatically respond to emotionally, on the gut level, but most visual art seems to be more about intellectual process. It feels quite rare for a still object to have the kind of emotional pull that we take for granted from movies. I don’t know exactly what causes my emotional response to this particular painting (maybe the first time I saw it was at the right moment for it to take on meaning for me), but that’s also part of what makes it interesting. I can tell you that marigold yellow has become a favorite color.


Image: Robert Motherwell, (American, 1915-1991), Open No. 175, acrylic on canvas. Gift of Sylvia and Joseph Slifka. (M.2004.4.5) © Daedalus/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

One Response to Art of the Month Club: Janet Curran

  1. Emily says:

    I like this one too!