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See also: Abstract Expressionism; Jackson Pollock
See also: Abstract Expressionism; Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock: American painter. He was an important practitioner of Abstract Expressionism. He was born in Cody, Wyoming, into a poor sheep farming family and was originally interested in sculpture, but joined the Art Students' League of New York in 1929 and was taught painting by Thomas Hart Benton. He developed a romantic Regionalist style influenced by Ryder during the 1930s. As a member of the Federal Art project 1938-42, he met a number of avant garde artists (he exhibited with de Kooning in 1940) and discovered Picasso's work and Surrealism (he was part of the New York Surrealist exhibition in 1942 and wrote automatic poetry). In 1939, he underwent psychiatric counselling and came into contact with the ideas of Jung. He began a series of semi figurative pieces, using symbolism from Native American culture (Navajo sand painting) and primitive art, influenced by the Mexican Rivera and incorporating a heavily applied technique which suggested violent spontaneity (e.g. She-Wolf 1943, New York).|
Pollock was already experimenting with Surrealist automatism, but after the War he settled in Long Island and began to develop the Action techniques for which he is best known, dripping and throwing paint onto large canvases which were laid on the studio floor and only cut once the work was completed. He produced his first such abstraction in 1945. The intention was to avoid a focus for the work, to be part of it during creation (actually walking over it), to treat it as an object and to work semi automatically ('painting has a life of its own'). His attitude was later influential to Performance artists and happenings.
Despite his abstraction, Pollock used evocative, descriptive titles for many of these works (e.g. Cathedral, 1947, Dallas). The mesh of drips and dashes, often textured by the addition of sand and other materials, created a floating spatial rhythm. In 1951, suffering from alcoholic depression, he reduced his colours and began to work with black enamels of unprimed canvas. Dreamlike figures began to creep back into his work (e.g. Portrait and Dream, 1953, private collection). Pollock died in a car crash in 1956.
The following review of the Jackson Pollock retrospective held in 1998/99 was written by Dr. Francis V. O’Connor, Editor, O’CONNOR’S PAGE.
At The Museum of Modern Art, NY (Nov. 1, ‘98-Feb. 2, ‘99);
The Tate Gallery, London, (March 11-June 6 ’99)
Kirk Varnedoe with Pepe Karmel, Jackson Pollock, New York: The Museum of Modern Art / Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1998
Pollock Watch Commentaries Nos. 1A to 1Q
What follows are the Introductions to the Reviews and Commentaries I published on the occasion of The Museum of Modern Art’s Jackson Pollock exhibition. These will explain what is available on O’CONNOR’S PAGE about Pollock. The substance of this material can be accessed through the following link --
Introduction to Reviews 9, 9A and 9B
The Jackson Pollock Exhibition at MoMA
Let me say at the start that this was a spectacular exhibition. In my experience it has only been equaled at MoMA by William Rubin’s retrospective of Pablo Picasso in 1980. Its curators, Kirk Varnedoe [hereafter KV] and Pepe Karmel [hereafter PK], whatever I may say later about the details of this show’s selection and interpretation, are here congratulated for bringing Pollock’s art before the public in so splendid and spacious an environment.
The exhibition, and the ancillary shows elsewhere in the museum, provide access to nearly 200 representative works by Pollock in all media. For most ordinary art lovers in this country, Pollock’s work has been sparsely available. There are only about a dozen visible examples in New York at any given time. Most of these, it must be said, are at MoMA, where William Lieberman, the curator of the first Pollock retrospective there in 1967, and William Rubin, a vociferous enthusiast for his work, collected Pollock in depth. That number just about doubles when considering the visible Pollock holdings of the other museums between Boston and Washington. While these museums’ holdings of other paintings, drawings and prints greatly expand these numbers, they are seldom on public view. It would also take an intrepid Pollock lover of heroic stamina to ferret out the rest in our nation’s other museums -- say in Buffalo, Utica, Iowa City, Omaha, St Louis, Seattle, etc. (Indeed, it is easier to see Vermeer; nearly a third of his oeuvre is visible on the east coast of this country!)
Several friends, long aware of my interest in Pollock, have told me that for the first time, after viewing the current MoMA exhibit, they had come to understand just what Pollock had achieved. (It is unclear if they thought me crazy earlier. . . .) Further, it is to be hoped that several new generations of art lovers -- all of whom seemed to have left their discos to crash MoMA on the night of its formal opening -- will have similar epiphanies. So all praise and thanks to the curators, their staff and the sponsors of this exhibition, for making it possible, and bringing it off with such glorious visual panache.
MoMA’s Pollock exhibition opened late in October 1998. I followed this important event in some detail, primarily because I have been involved with Pollock as a scholar since my dissertation at The Johns Hopkins University in 1965. Two years later, I wrote the text for the catalogue of MoMA’s first Pollock retrospective--whose curator was William S. Lieberman (now head of 20th Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum). In 1978, I co-edited the catalogue raisonné of Pollock’s work with the art dealer, Eugene Victor Thaw, and in 1995, edited a supplement to that catalogue for the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. I have also been a member of the several committees that decided on the authenticity of works attributed to Pollock since about 1973. So this exhibition and its scholarly, curatorial, critical and cultural ramifications shall be watched here with special interest.
Review No. 9 was posted on November 1, 1998.
Pollock in Utopia: A Tour of the Exhibition
IntroductionBlue is the color of this exhibition, its photo logo being a shot of Pollock painting, taken from below by Hans Namuth through a sheet of plate glass in the fall of 1950. The artist is seen against the sky, pouring elegant black lines. This image is on the cover of the exhibition’s catalogue, and the CD of Pollock’s top seventeen jazz classics, that can be seen in serried rows in the shop just outside the entrance as you ascend the escalator. When you open the catalogue, its endpapers continue Pollock’s pouring process with two more stills from the film -- that show him obscuring his face behind a dense web of poured lines.
That is exactly what, in a sense, the show achieves. The exhibition’s point is clear: To show the development of Pollock’s pouring technique. When you read the catalogue, you soon realize that its curators are really interested in nothing else, the early work through c. 1946 being disparaged; the late work from 1951 on scanted. But curators do exhibitions from a point of view, the view here is legitimate if limited -- and the catalogue shall be reviewed at 9B in respect to what it contributes to our knowledge of the artist this exhibition both reveals and conceals.
As you approach the entrance to the exhibition, that occupies seventeen galleries on MoMA’s entire third floor, you see beyond a blue title wall an Orozco-influenced naked man wielding a knife. His arm is seemingly bitten by a second figure, while a third sprawls (safely?) below them. Whether a curatorial point, or a vista’s accident, it sets a certain tone of arrested violence that pervades all that is to follow in MoMA’s elegantly designed, brilliantly illuminated and extravagantly spacious installation. The surrounding luxury somehow insulates the senses and makes you forget the rage implicit in these works and the essentialism that informs them -- and their “impurity” of facture that even Varnedoe admits (VK: 52).
Kirk Varnedoe, the curator of this exhibition, addresses the matter of Pollock’s essentialism in an interview by Sarah Greenberg in The Art Newspaper (November 1998, p. 31). There, he makes the point that Pollock’s art “seems utterly unironic. It has no trace of cynicism.” I agree. Pollock’s essentialism -- that I have discussed in the interpretive essays (Pollock Watch Commentaries Nos. 1D to 1K) -- is the opposite of irony -- even that which pervades this paradoxical installation. Life for Pollock was too puzzling, hard, and chthonic to beat around the bush with tangentially clever takes on anything. The instinctive tenor of his mind was that of Occam’s razor: Get to the essential point and cut the bullshit. When Hans Hofmann, that future Abstract Expressionist manqué, suggested Pollock study “nature” from a studio set-up, he replied that he “was Nature.” When a woman asked him how he knew when a poured painting was finished, he asked how she knew when sex was over. His bluntness -- his arrogant disregard of others -- his impatience with anything that did not get to the heart of art or life could be as sharp as a knife -- even if art or life bit back -- and the essential point remained irretrievable.
Books on Jackson Pollock:
- Jackson Pollock, by Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel. The catalog to the recent MoMA retrospective. Essential.
- Jackson Pollock; An American Saga, by Steven Naifeh. Biography, light on the art criticism.
- To a Violent Grave : An Oral Biography of Jackson Pollock, by Jeffrey Potter. An intimate biography, edited by a friend of Pollock from discussions with Pollock's close friends and relatives.
- The Essential Jackson Pollock, by Justin Spring. An economical and concise introduction to Pollock and his work.
- The Fate of a Gesture: Jackson Pollock and Postwar American Art, by Carter Ratcliff. A study of gesture in American society, with Pollock as the archetype.
Jackson Pollock Images* Links to other Pollock images online can be found at Artcyclopedia.
1942 Male and Female 1942 The Moon-Woman 1942 Stenographic Figure c. 1943 Pasiphäe c. 1943 The Moon-Woman Cuts the Circle c. 1943 Blue (Moby Dick) 1943 Guardians of the Secret 1943 Guardians of the Secret (Detail) 1943 The She-Wolf 1946 Eyes in the Heat 1946 The Key 1946 Shimmering Substance 1946 The Tea Cup 1947 Cathedral 1947 Cathedral (Detail) 1947 Full Fathom Five 1947 Full Fathom Five (Detail) 1948 Number 1A, 1948 1948 Number 1A, 1948 (Detail) 1948 Number 26A, 1948: Black and White 1949 Number 1, 1949 1949 Number 8, 1949 1949 Number 8, 1949 (Detail) 1950 Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950 1950 Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950 (Detail) 1950 Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950 1950 Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950 (Detail) 1950 One: Number 31, 1950 1950 One: Number 31, 1950 (Detail) 1950 Number 32, 1950 1950 Number 32, 1950 (Detail) 1952 Convergence: Number 10, 1952 1952 Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 1952 Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 (Detail) 1953 The Deep 1953 Easter and the Totem