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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.

11/11/98