Jackson Pollock's Mural goes on show
Of his seminal painting Mural (1943), Jackson Pollock remarked that it was “a stampede” of “every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes. Everything is charging across that goddam surface”.
Originally commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, the expansive and explosive work of art, which measures 247cm by 605cm, is thought to be one of the artist’s best, a defining moment in his career, after which, stylistically, there was no looking back.
After undergoing a year-long restoration project, the monumental painting is now on show at the J. Paul Getty Museum. The exhibition, which features new research and other works of art, discusses in detail the magnitude of Mural.
“This painting is of the greatest importance in the history of twentieth century art,” explained Jim Cuno, president and chief executive officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
“We are honoured to have been entrusted with the task of scientifically analysing and treating this painting. Our work has revealed much new and significant information about the painting and its role in a transitional moment in Pollock’s career.”
The University of Iowa Museum Art has stated that Mural is the outcome of Pollock’s near perfect synthesis of all the theoretical techniques that he was exposed to in his youth.
Infused with his burgeoning abstract expressionist approach, he achieved, in this one painting, something quite extraordinary, overwhelming the canvas with colour and form rich in personal, cultural, social, political, and art-world references”.
This includes references to Pablo Picasso’s landmark work Guernica (1937), echoes of regionalist realist Thomas Hart Benton (his early mentor, whose ideas gave Pollock something to react against) and even the philosophy of Carl Jung.
“Pollock harnessed all of these elements, with their diverse strengths, as he experienced them in a frenetic coming-togetherness, acting and reacting within his own bravura-painting performance,” the University of Iowa Museum Art outlines on its website.
The last time conservation was carried out on Mural was in the seventies, in response to flaking paint and a slack canvas that had ‘developed a pronounced sag’. Structural work was done to stabilise the painting, however, by 2009, it was evident that it needed further work.
During recent restoration efforts, the team of art experts were able to find out more about the history of the painting, the materials used and the various approaches Pollock engaged with.
The most interesting discovery is initial paint marks that seem to have been made in four ‘highly diluted colours’ (umber, teal, red and lemon yellow), all of which appear to have been ‘applied wet-on-wet’. They remain visible in several parts of the painting, reaffirming that yes, perhaps, the great myth that it was executed in one frenzied sitting is partially true.
“It looks as if Pollock did finish some kind of initial composition over much of the canvas very rapidly, perhaps even in a single all-night session,” remarked Tom Learner, head of contemporary art research at the Getty Conservation Unit.
“However, the majority of paint layers on Mural were not part of this session, and were frequently added over earlier applications of paint that had already dried, indicating several days or even weeks would have passed between painting sessions.”
It’s a fantastic effort all around and gives the painting a real zing again. We all want to feel the way that the renowned art critic Clement Greenberg did when he first saw the Mural.
He famously said: “I took one look at it and I thought, ‘Now that’s great art,’ and I knew Jackson was the greatest painter this country had produced.”
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