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A collaboration with the Getty in Los Angeles will provide new technical insight into Jackson Pollock's painting Mural (1943) and give the West Coast a chance to see up close one of Iowa's cultural treasures.
Pollock’s seminal work Mural (1943) will be conserved over the next two years as part of an agreement between the Getty and the University of Iowa Museum of Art.
Workers prepare to remove, pack, and ship Mural from the Figge Museum to Des Moines earlier this year. Photo by Tim Schoon.
Mural will travel from the Des Moines Art Center, where it is currently on exhibit through mid-July, to the Getty Center this summer, where it will undergo technical study and conservation treatment by research scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute and conservators at the J. Paul Getty Museum, both programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust.
Prior to the conservation, the Getty team will collaborate on an investigation into the materials and techniques used by Pollock to create the painting, and will develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
Once the painting is conserved, a process that is expected to take nearly two years to complete, Mural will be exhibited at the Getty Center for three months.
The Getty Conservation Institute already has committed significant resources to address the conservation challenges presented by modern and contemporary art, and the Getty Museum Paintings Conservation Department regularly undertakes the conservation of works of art from institutions around the world at no charge as part of the Getty’s overall philanthropic mission.
(Read the Getty news release announcing this partnership here.)
“This is a win-win situation for everyone that is only made possible because of the generosity and vision of the Getty Museum,” UI President Sally Mason says. “Not only will this incredible painting—itself a gift to the university and the people of Iowa—undergo conservation at no cost to us. But by partnering with one of the world’s preeminent museums and conservation research centers, we will bring further exposure and resources to support this important piece of art as we work toward establishing a permanent home for it in a new Museum of Art.”
UI Museum of Art Director Sean O’Harrow says he’s delighted at the opportunity to collaborate with the Getty.
“Making the world aware of this painting and other major works in the collection is extremely important at such a crucial period in the museum’s development,” O’Harrow says.
Plans for the restoration and tour began soon after the flood in 2008, when the UI Museum of Art invited Tom Learner, senior scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute and head of their Modern and Contemporary Art research initiative, to visit Iowa and inspect Mural. Learner recommended the Getty be involved in its conservation.
“The GCI has been researching the many and varied conservation challenges presented by modern and contemporary art for a number of years,” says Learner. “In particular, we have undertaken detailed studies of how paints from the 20th century differ from those used by the Old Masters, in terms of how they age or how best to clean them. It’s really important that we work side-by-side with conservators at this point to ensure the research is making a maximum impact. Mural fits in very well with our research program, and we’re delighted to have the time to study and conserve this important work.”
The technical study will provide the opportunity to investigate Pollock’s technique, the types of paints he used, and potentially even how Pollock applied his paint, and the conservation work will help ensure that the public can continue to view the artwork.
“All paintings require some conservation treatment over time, and Mural is no exception,” explains Yvonne Szafran, head of the Paintings Conservation Studio at the Getty Museum. “Visually, its surface looks dull, so it will need to be cleaned. And although though the lining is structurally sound, some structural work also will be needed.”
Mural is considered by many to be one of the most influential paintings in American art since World War II. David Anfam, the renowned expert on Abstract Expressionism, has described this painting this way: “In western painting, it is to the second half of the 20th century what Picasso's Les Desmoiselles [d’Avignon] is to the first half.”
This makes Mural not only significant with regards to world culture, but also to the UI’s national and international reputation.
Mural has been in the UI's art collection since it was given by the great art visionary Peggy Guggenheim in the early 1950s. Major conservation work has been performed on it only occasionally, most recently in the 1970s by Louis Pomerantz, the famous art conservator from the Art Institute of Chicago. Since then, only periodic surface consolidation has taken place, primarily by Forrest Bailey of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
All of the work on Mural will be completed before it is placed in its new permanent location in Iowa City when a new art museum building is built. (After a recent denial of replacement funding for the museum by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, UI officials are weighing their options for securing funding for the project.)
Pollock (1912-56) is widely considered one of the most influential painters in American history and a key figure of modern art. By all accounts, Mural was a crucial watershed for Pollock as an artist, and it is credited with inspiring the emergent Abstract Expressionists of the mid-20th century.
Commissioned by Guggenheim in July 1943, Mural was completed for the opening of Pollock’s first one-man début at Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery.
After Guggenheim closed her gallery and returned to Europe, she gifted the painting to Iowa in 1951.
In June 2008, Mural and thousands of other pieces of art were removed from the UI Museum of Art when the Iowa City River flooded the arts campus. In 2009, the painting was loaned to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, where more than 150,000 Iowa residents, students, and visitors enjoyed it before it was sent to the Des Moines Art Center in early April.
More information about the UI Museum of Art and Pollock’s Mural at uima.uiowa.edu/mural.
More information about the Getty and its programs at www.getty.edu.