Above photograph by the author. Depicts the Museum of Modern Art’s lobby from above.
Yesterday I paid a visit to two exhibitions at the MoMA, the first being Jackson Pollock: a Collection Survey, 1934-1954 and the second Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015, which will be covered in the next installment of this post.
The works in the Pollock show are drawn entirely from the museum’s collection, and span the twenty-odd years during which Pollock was a key figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement and New York art scene. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the exhibition is seeing Pollock’s unmistakable evolution as an artist, from creator of mythic, comic book-style etchings and violent, hypnotic paintings to inventor of the ‘drip’ technique that continues to challenge our understanding of the act of painting.
The common denominator throughout Pollock’s work is his unorthodox use of materials (such as paint from hardware stores, sand, and glass) and subject matter. Pollock’s early 1940’s pieces suggest the artist to be wrestling with inner demons, as evidenced by his haunting depictions of hooded characters and dark, messy forms, though it is only after he achieves great fame a decade later that Pollock finally succumbs to these demons, in the form of alcoholism and when a car crash ends his life. Even at the beginning of his career, Pollock is edging towards abstraction with nods to Picasso, Surrealism, and Dada along the way.
Etching on the far left known as Untitled 4, which was shown at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery Art of this Century, is very much in the likeness of Picasso’s Guernica. One can also detect Picasso’s influence on Pollock when glancing at the deformed head in the center of Masque (right, center).
His work is so riotous and vivacious that it is easy to understand how Pollock had such a tremendous impact on de Kooning and the rest of the Abstract Expressionists. Over the course of the exhibition, it also becomes clear to the viewer that Pollock’s legacy has shaped graphic imagery in pop culture today- his painting Stenographic Figure is reminiscent of the lettering and murals that decorate Two Boots Pizza.
In the late ’40s and early ’50s, Pollock began to vary the use of texture in his paintings, manipulating layers of different materials to create an active, exciting whole. The Pollock we all know and love slowly emerges in works such as Shimmering Substance (one of my favorites) and Free Form, an inky precedent to the ‘drip’ paintings.
The maturation of Pollock’s work is evidenced in his development of a certain rhythm, a rhythm that permeates his first ‘drip’ paintings, which were introduced at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1948 to a confused public, but soon elevated Pollock to his status of iconic postwar American painter. One Number 31 and Number 1A are the ‘drip’s famously on permanent display at MoMA, and the subjects of much visitor attention due to their mammoth size and scale, in comparison to the other Pollock pieces that are displayed along with them.
However, the work that I found most interesting was Easter and Totem, a colorful piece made by Pollock in the ’50s that suggests the artist’s experimentation with what is known historically as in the flat, colorful style of the Abstract-Expressionist movement and very much in the nature of de Kooning.
Jackson Pollock: a Collection Survey, 1934-1954 closes May 1st.