Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Jackson Pollock, photographed by Hans Namuth in 1950.

'Mural' by Jackson Pollock from the permanent collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Today is the birth date of the American painter, Jackson Pollock.  Pollock was a wildly talented and highly experimental, abstract impressionist.  He was also a deeply troubled, extremely volatile, alcoholic.  He painted in many styles during his short life, abruptly abandoning them and moving on to new methods.  Pollock once in an interview was asked whether mistakes were hard to prevent due to his wild style of painting.  He replied thoughtfully that he "does not use the accident, I deny the accident".  This quote has stuck with me and I think it's a good ideal for all artists to embrace.
The painting above was commissioned by art patron Peggy Guggenheim, in 1943.  It was painted to hang in her New York apartment.  The mural is about 8 feet by 20 feet in size and until recently hung in the central gallery space in the University of Iowa's Museum of Art.  When I was in college, I would sit for hours on a bench staring at this painting.   There's something extremely captivating about it.  Though it is clearly an abstract painting, there is something very figural going on in it that I've never been able to put my finger on.  I always found sitting there with it very inspiring and I loved to think of it as my painting.  
The devastating floods in 2008 heavily damaged 5 university buildings on the arts campus to the tune of 250 million dollars.  This all happened pretty fast, but the Museum managed to get all but 10 works of art out before the river spilled over it's banks.  Their valiant effort saved the Pollock mural along with more than 12,000 works of art valued at half a billion dollars.  The insurer, Lloyd's of London came with big trucks and took it all away for safe keeping.  The museum will not return to it's lovely spot by the river, surely a wise move, but one that makes me sad.  It is not known where or when we will have our new museum, and so our collections remain in Chicago.  Recently it was announced that a small art museum in Davenport, Iowa will soon display some of the collections until we have a new home.  It will be nice to have it back in our home state.
There had been talk that the UI might sell the famous Pollock painting to cover some flood costs.  Tempting to be sure, as the painting is insured for 150 million dollars and would almost certainly bring much more at auction.  The director of the museum recently said in no uncertain terms that this would not be happening.  I'm glad.  Some things are worth keeping, even when it's hard to hold onto them.

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