The Getty Museum’s exhibition Jackson Pollock Mural presents Pollock’s abstract masterpiece Mural in an entirely new light (on view through June 1, 2014). Here are 6 reasons why you, and your family and friends, should see it:
1. It’s iconic – Jackson Pollock’s Mural is one of the most significant paintings of the 20th Century. Mural marks a pivotal moment in Pollock’s artistic development, paving the way for his iconic drip technique four years later. It was also the largest painting Pollock attempted at the time, the huge mural measures nearly 20-feet-by-8-feet. The canvas was so large that Pollock had to take down an interior wall in his apartment to work on the mural.
2. A rare appearance – Renowned art collector Peggy Guggenheim commissioned the mural for the entrance hall of her New York townhouse in 1943. When she moved back to Europe after the war ended, Guggenheim offered the painting to Yale University. Although it’s hard to imagine now, Yale exhibited Mural but declined the gift. Guggenheim then offered the painting to the University of Iowa Museum of Art, and that’s where Mural has remained — it’s rarely been outside of Iowa since it entered the collection in 1951. That is until now. Mural is on view at the Getty Museum for a limited time only (through June 1, 2014) so see it soon.
3. It’s newly restored – By the 1970’s, Mural started to show its age — the heavy painting developed a pronounced sag and the paint began to flake. Iowa conservators treated the mural in 1973. They replaced the original stretcher, glued a canvas liner to the back, and added a varnish. While these efforts successfully stabilized the mural, they also affected the painting’s overall appearance. The varnish added a milky veil that changed the look and texture of the painting, and the fortification efforts made the sag permanent.
Two years ago, Mural arrived in Los Angeles for extensive cleaning, treatment, and study by a team of Getty experts; Yvonne Szafran and Laura Rivers from the Getty Museum, and Tom Learner and Alan Phenix (photo above) from the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI). Together, they have done everything possible to restore the mural back to the way it looked the day Pollock completed it. The most dramatic change occurred when conservators removed the varnish unveiling the painting’s original vibrancy. I saw Mural at a preview last week (photo below), and I was completely blown away by the way Pollock’s brilliantly colored brushstrokes dance across the huge canvas.
4. Get the real story: As the popular story goes, Pollock painted Mural in one frenzied all-night session. But is that actually truth or fiction? An in-depth scientific analysis by the Getty’s team reveals that it’s a little of both. They discovered that Pollock completed the initial composition in one creative burst by rapidly applying layers of four highly diluted colors wet-on-wet. After that, however, Pollock applied paint to the canvas in different stages over time, allowing layers of paint to dry in between sessions.
The Getty team’s paint analysis also uncovered evidence of Pollock’s evolving style. They deduced that Pollock did “splash and throw” some of the paint on the mural, but only while the canvas was in an upright vertical position (see a Getty video about this interesting discovery). According to Yvonne Szafran, Head of Paintings Conservation at the Getty Museum, “It’s a hint of things to come,” referring in part to Pollock’s latter groundbreaking technique of dripping paint on canvasses laid out horizontally on the floor.
5. An engaging design – The exhibition occupies two gallery spaces; one displays the painting, and the other tells visitors about the Getty’s Pollock Mural conservation project. The installation, curated by former Getty curator Scott Schaefer and GCI’s Tom Learner, includes behind-the-scenes stories, photographs, and videos about the Getty’s fascinating work on the mural.
Don’t miss the “before and after” photographs showing what the mural looked like before the Getty conservators cleaned and removed the varnish from the painting, a painstaking process in which conservators used small cotton swabs as their primary tool (photo above).
The engaging format of the gallery wall labels asks, and then answers, questions that kids and adults want to know about the mural. Questions like, “How long did Pollock take to paint Mural?” and “What kind of paint did Pollock use?” (photo above).
I’m looking forward to showing my children this section because it nicely illustrates that museums are not only about objects and architecture. Museums are also about people; people doing interesting, creative, and highly technical scientific work. This notion will surely surprise my sons who often talk about art and science as if they are polar opposites. It also highlights the vital role museum professionals, like the Getty’s team, play in understanding and preserving cultural treasures, in this case ensuring that Pollock’s Mural will be well-preserved not only for our children but future generations as well.
6. A visual feast. Lastly, Pollock’s Mural is a visual feast that must be experienced in person to be fully appreciated. Photographs and text can’t describe the sheer energy of the painting, every section explodes with intensity. The mural’s installation gives visitors an unfiltered look — no glass or metal railing between you and the painting to obstruct your view. The spacious gallery allows you to see the mural in it’s entirety from afar, and close-up to see Pollock’s every action-packed brushstroke (just be sure you stay behind the black line on the floor).
The exhibition’s small size and single-object focus makes it a great choice for family museum outings. Mural encourages us to experience the joys of slowing down, taking a close look, and discovering how one painting can speak volumes. After all, that’s what the Getty had in mind all along. “Throughout the entire process, Szafran says, we let the painting speak for itself.” And wow, does it have a lot to say.
1. Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943. University of Iowa Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim. Reproduced with permission from The University of Iowa.
2. Getty Conservation Institute Head of Science Tom Learner and scientist Alan Phenix discuss the conservation of Mural. University of Iowa Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim. Reproduced with permission from The University of Iowa. Photo: © 2013 J. Paul Getty Trust.
3. Getty Conservation Institute Head of Science Tom Learner at the J. Paul Getty Museum press preview for Jackson Pollock Mural. Photo © 2014 Museum Stories.
4. Head of Painting Conservation Yvonne Szafran at the J. Paul Getty Museum press preview for Jackson Pollock Mural. Photo © 2014 Museum Stories.
5. Laura Rivers, associate conservator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, gently cleans Jackson Pollock’s painting Mural. Photo: © 2013 J. Paul Getty Trust.
6. Jackson Pollock Mural installation panel at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Photo © 2014 Museum Stories.
7. Head of Painting Conservation Yvonne Szafran at the J. Paul Getty Museum considers Jackson Pollock’s painting Mural. Photo: © 2013 J. Paul Getty Trust.
8. Detail of Jackson Pollock’s, Mural, 1943. University of Iowa Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim. Photo © 2014 Museum Stories.