Saturday, 27 February 2016

Jackson Pollock - KunstHalle (Postcard from Berlin 2016 (4))

Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943 (Click on image to enlarge)
Jackson Pollock’s Mural: Energy Made Visible is at Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin until 10 April 2016.
This small but focused exhibition contextualises Mural painted by Jackson Pollock in 1943/4 for a commission from Peggy Guggenheim. The painting, owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA) was bequeathed to them by Peggy Guggenheim. In the 1940s Guggenheim ran a gallery in New York called ‘Art of This Century’ which specialised in exhibiting European Surrealism and the young American artists who were to become the New York School – the Abstract Expressionists. In 1943 Pollock signed a contract with the gallery and was commissioned to make a mural for the entrance hall of Guggenheim’s new apartment in Manhattan. As the UIMA website recounts:
The choice of subject was to be his, and the size, immense—8' 1 1/4" x 19' 10", meant to cover an entire wall. At the suggestion of Guggenheim's friend and advisor Marcel Duchamp, it was painted on canvas, not the wall itself, so it would be portable. Pollock wrote of his commission that it was:
"...with no strings as to what or how I paint it. I am going to paint it in oil on canvas. They are giving me a show November 16 and I want to have the painting finished for the show. I've had to tear out the partition between the front and middle room to get the damned thing up. I have it stretched now. It looks pretty big, but exciting as all hell." []
Pollock spent weeks staring at the blank canvas, complaining to friends that he was "blocked," and seeming to become both obsessed and depressed. Finally, according to all reports, he painted the entire canvas in one frenetic burst of energy around New Year's Day of 1944—although the painting bears the date 1943… As soon as the canvas was dry to the touch, Pollock broke down the stretcher, rolled the canvas, and transported both to Guggenheim's townhouse. Some accounts have said that the painting was too long for the space by almost a foot, and when Pollock discovered this he became quite hysterical. Marcel Duchamp and another artist were said to have cut eight inches from one end before it was installed. However, close examination by numerous experts over the years has revealed no evidence of this.
The other legend associated with this commission – but which no ‘serious’ accounts of Pollock seem to include – is that at the polite party thrown by Guggenheim at the unveiling of Mural Pollock got drunk and stumbled into the living room, where guests had already gathered to celebrate the installation, unzipped his fly, and urinated into Peggy’s marble fireplace. (Wetzsteon, R. (1988) Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia,1910-1960, Simon & Schuster, p531).
The painting itself is impressive – and, historically, something of a game changer, opening the door to large scale, full blown abstraction. UIMA notes that Clement Greenberg, destined to become the authoritative critical spokesman for Abstract Expression had written encouraging but less than whole-hearted endorsements in his Pollock reviews, but, he said after he saw the big mural in Guggenheim's townhouse, "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."
(Click on images to enlarge.)
Herbert Matter, Jackson Pollock standing in front of 'Mural', c1947
George Kargar, Peggy Guggenheim and Jackson Pollock in fron of 'Mural', 1943
The exhibition includes several other paintings, notably by Lee Krasner and RobertMotherwell as well as interesting archive material and a display of contemporary photography experimenting with abstraction and the representation of movement. (Although it pains me to say so, a painting by Andy Warhol is probably the least interesting thing here!)
Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No.126, 1965-75
Lee Krasner, Another Storm, 1963

László Moholy-Nagy, Pink, Red anity Lights, 1937-40
Aaron Siskind, Chicago 8, 1948
Andy Warhol, Yarn Painting, 1983

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