'Mural' returns to Midwest, vibrant as ever
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Mural has made its way back to the Midwest.
The famed Jackson Pollock work, the centerpiece of the University of Iowa Museum of Art collection, will be on display at the Sioux City Art Center later in July. The painting’s return to the state of Iowa comes on the heels of a two-year technical study and conservation treatment by research scientists at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and conservators at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Over 300,000 people visited the painting during its exhibition at the Getty between March and June of this year, making it one of the most popular shows ever for that institution.
The Sioux City Art Center will hold the public opening of the Mural exhibition on Saturday, July 12. Mural will remain at the Sioux City venue until April 2015.
“This painting by Jackson Pollock is the most important work of art in Iowa, and one of the most significant paintings in American art," says Sean O'Harrow, director of the UI Museum of Art. "I am so pleased that after its massive success in Los Angeles, we will have the chance to unveil it at the Sioux City Art Center for all Iowans to see."
The recent conservation treatment removed a synthetic varnish that had been applied during a treatment in 1973 and addressed the effect that a wax-resin lining had on the current appearance of the painting. Whereas the lining successfully mitigated a long history of flaking, it also locked in place a sag in the canvas, resulting in a misalignment of the painted image with its rectangular stretcher.
As part of the UI's popular Hawkeye Lunch and Learn Series, UIMA director Sean O’Harrow will speak on “Two Years in the Life of Iowa’s Most Famous Painting” from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 22, at the UI John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center, 1200 Grand Ave. in Des Moines. Story
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Picture perfect: Getty to undertake technical study, conservation of Pollock’s Mural
Pollock's painting is anything but portable
As part of the Getty treatment, the stretcher was replaced with one that followed the existing painted edges, thereby returning all areas of unpainted canvas to the sides of the stretcher and reestablishing the original edges of Pollock's work.
The end result made quite an impact on Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight, who wrote in a Sept. 17, 2013, article:
“Color contrasts are emphatic. Patches of white canvas are bright rather than dim. While wholly abstract, several flickering suggestions of animal forms are vivid. Layers of visual space have opened up, created by what the artist called his ‘stampede’ of painterly shapes and rhythms.
“The gestural dynamism known to have had such an impact almost 70 years ago, when the commissioned painting was first unveiled in collector Peggy Guggenheim's Manhattan apartment, has returned in force. My jaw dropped.”
Mural, the pinnacle of modern American art
Mural is considered by many to be the most important modern American painting ever made.
Peggy Guggenheim, the leading dealer of Modern art in New York during the 1940s, was eager to present in her home a symbol of support for the new American brand of art she was beginning to champion in her gallery. She commissioned Pollock to create a mural for her new townhouse. Pollock was to choose the subject, and the art’s size would be 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 told a friend years afterward that he had had a vision: “It was a stampede...[of] every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes.”
Mural was immediately recognized as a turning point for American art. Art critic Clement Greenberg had written encouraging but less than whole-hearted endorsements in his Pollock reviews; after seeing the big mural in Guggenheim’s townhouse, he said, “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.”
Guggenheim’s move prompts gift to UI
In 1947 Guggenheim had closed her gallery and returned to Europe. She had no room for Mural in her new quarters in Venice. During this decade, the UI School of Art and Art History was called “Greenwich Village West”—given the status of former faculty such as Philip Guston, as well as the school’s growing reputation as a notable laboratory for creative experimentation and innovation.
Guggenheim, recognizing the significance of the UI studio art program, wrote to Lester Longman, head of the UI School of Art and Art History, on Oct. 3, 1948, reminding him that she had offered to give Mural to the university if he would pay to have it shipped from Yale. He responded immediately that indeed he was most interested, and began negotiating with the administration for the cost of freight. Finally, in October 1951, the painting was shipped to Iowa.
Guggenheim also donated several additional works to the UI, including Pollock’s Portrait of H.M., 1945; Irene Rice Pereira’s Eight Oblongs, 1945; Charles Seliger’s Homage to Erasmus Darwin, 1947; and Roberto Matta’s Like Me Like X, 1942.
Mural was moved from the UI campus due to the disastrous flooding that hit the Iowa City area in June 2008. In the interim, it has been on display in Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa, and at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, drawing record-breaking attendance numbers.
Now the Sioux City Art Center looks forward to hosting the artwork for the next nine months. Mural will headline the center’s 100th anniversary activities, and center director Al Harris-Fernandez anticipates many people from northwest Iowa and the three nearby bordering states will view this influential exhibit.
“Jackson Pollock greatly influenced the development of American and World Art, and has been dubbed the most important artist this country has ever produced. Little do people know that the Pollock family was 100 percent Iowan!" exclaimed a smiling O'Harrow. "Their famous son’s most significant painting is now back in Iowa for all to see, and I can think of no a better place to hang it than the Sioux City Art Center during its centenary celebration.”