The bullfight inevitably suggests risk. That was why Picasso liked it. He must have seen bullfighters gored or killed, so he knew the risk was real. His ink drawings and etchings of bullfights, so many from the fifties, make a claim to take risks as well, because of their spontaneous method, but that’s not believable. There could never be a mistake in any

Pablo Picasso, Bullfight early 50s

of Picasso’s drawings because slip ups are just places where expressive energies are released. This is a general problem in modernism as Picasso above all has made it, that there is ever weakening resistance in the both the form and the medium. He can conjure that lack away with sheer virtuosity, but Motherwell, again to his credit, doesn’t invoke risk, but an already accomplished defeat. His generation recognized that there were a finite number of possibilities to be made available through the destruction of the painterly tradition, that art had to be positive again, even if that meant a touch of bad faith. Their positive contribution was almost entirely scale. Large pictures weren’t in any way new, but they were rare in modernism. The decorative also became a positive moment in the work.

Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic #108 1966

The arbitrariness of the interior of the work, that its arrangement could just as well be different with no necessary loss, could then be understood as a kind of freedom, with all the political and other associations of the word.

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