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Major art critics take note of Jackson Pollock's 'Mural' from UI
Museum of Art
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A painting from the University of Iowa Museum of
Art is on display in New York, where it is getting a lot of attention from
major art critics and national publications.
Jackson Pollock's "Mural," a gift to the UI Museum of Art
from the famous art collector Peggy Guggenheim, is part of a retrospective
of Pollock's work that will be at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New
York City through Feb. 2, 1999.
One of the most important paintings in the permanent collection of the
UI Museum of Art, "Mural" often hangs in the central sculpture
court of the museum. An enormous painting, nearly 20 feet wide, it dominates
that space and is familiar to regular visitors to the museum.
Several major reviews and articles about the MOMA exhibition have mentioned
"Mural," considered a major turning point in Pollock's career,
including articles in Time magazine, the New York Times and Smithsonian.
Critic Robert Hughes wrote in Time that the Pollock retrospective is
"the most eagerly awaited show of the U.S. art season." His article
is accompanied by a reproduction of "Mural," which he singles
out as "the picture in which (Pollock) broke free . . . and, it now
seems, took American art into a larger freedom with him."
The freedom Hughes is referring to is the transition from identifiable
subject matter to abstract expressionism, which became the dominant movement
in mid-20th-century American art. Popularly known as the artist who created
so-called "drip" paintings, Pollock began his artistic career
as a student of Thomas Hart Benton. Under the influence of Picasso and
surrealism, Pollock moved toward a more highly abstract art. Experiments
with various methods of applying paint to canvas led to the development
of the "drip" method, in which Pollock drew or dripped complicated
linear rhythms onto his canvasses.
Hughes describes "Mural," a work comprised of loosely brushed
forms, as an important painting in this transition: "The figures are
arabesques, coiling, jammed together, recognizable as figures because of
their verticality but lacking most identifiable signs of the human body.
. . . The painting is a frieze of Dionysiac energy in which Pollock was
at last able to get movement into his figures instead of confining it to
the blurts and squiggles of paint around them."
And, Hughes concludes, "afterimages of 'Mural' would keep appearing
right up to . . . his last great canvas."
Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic of the New York Times, wrote: "Pollock's
first great painting, 'Mural,' is shocking if you haven't seen it before
. . . because it's so vivid. It's an enormous panorama of soft pink, yellow
and turquoise mixed with black, almost a Caribbean palette, which makes
the swarm of compressed shapes (like dancing stick figures in a swirl of
grass) seem to shimmer.
"If you care about art you live for exhibitions like this, in which
the artist, against the heavy odds of his own skewed talent and unhinged
personality, pursued something so wild, untested and mysterious that its
full meaning was unclear even to him."
"Mural" is also discussed in Phyllis Tuchman's article in
Smithsonian magazine. Recounting Pollock's career, Tuchman explains that
Guggenheim "commissioned from Pollock a mural for her town house.
. . . He contemplated the bare canvas for hours on end . . . before he
finally, in just one day, covered the entire surface of the work with a
series of rhythmic strokes that suggests a group of figures. 'I had a vision,'
Pollock reportedly told a friend. 'It was a stampede.' "
The current survey of Pollock's work, organized by MOMA's senior curator
of painting and sculpture Kirk Varnedoe and assistant curator Pepe Karmel,
is the first in the United States since 1967. After the exhibition closes
at MOMA, it will travel to the Tate Gallery in London, where it will be
shown March 11 through June 6.