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One: Singular Sensation
April 21, 2013 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Last summer, the Museum of Modern Art took one of its best-known paintings off the wall, Jackson Pollock's One: Number 31, 1950, so that it could be conserved. They've been blogging about the process of restoring this dense, multi-layered work, including closeup photos that reveal an earlier restoration in the mid-60s before it came to MOMA.
posted by Horace Rumpole (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The best time I ever had at the MOMA was when I was walking around, turned a corner, and came face to face with that painting.

BAM!

It hit me like a ton of bricks so I sat down to consider it for a while.

And a moment or two later, a young woman who I would [pick one: a) describe, b) pigeonhole, or c) stereotype] as a first-year NYU art student walks up to the painting, turns her back to it, and holds her camera at an arm's length, sweeps her bangs across her forehead, and assembles her face with an expression that was nine-tenths impassive with just a sliver of forlorn.

Click.

I can only assume it wound up as a MySpace profile picture.

This was back when people used MySpace.
posted by entropone at 9:04 AM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


My favorite painting at MoMA. Have spent a good amount of time sitting and looking at it. Can't wait to see it again!
posted by ReeMonster at 9:06 AM on April 21, 2013


A rough depiction of the fully restored version was also provided.
posted by delfin at 9:07 AM on April 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


On my list of paintings I need to see in person some day. That article is fascinating and the dedication they have in detailing it is amazing. Plus it got me thinking about a painting I hadn't thought about in a while.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:19 AM on April 21, 2013


I'm used to SF MOMA with strict security guards. I was shocked when I visited NY Met and saw a woman in a backpack turn and brush it against a Pollack. Yikes!
posted by cccorlew at 9:20 AM on April 21, 2013


I can't begin to imagine the level of knowledge and familiarity with the subject it would take be be on the conservation team for this amazing painting.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:23 AM on April 21, 2013


I never appreciated Pollack or Rothko until I went and saw the works in person and at scale.
posted by humanfont at 9:25 AM on April 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


It's clearly a picture of that fog that turns people inside-out. Or the people. One of those.
posted by anarch at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2013


I never appreciated Pollack or Rothko until I went and saw the works in person and at scale.

So true.

It's like albums with really heavy guitar distortion: Loveless or Earth 2 or Dopesmoker. You might think "Oh, this'll sound fine on my shitty laptop speakers. It's all sonically fucked-up already anyway, right?" And yet those end up being the albums where I absolutely insist on getting out the nice headphones, because somehow if you lose the fine details — the details that sound like pure random accidental noise — it just sucks all the life out of the whole thing.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:02 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm used to SF MOMA with strict security guards. I was shocked when I visited NY Met and saw a woman in a backpack turn and brush it against a Pollack. Yikes!

To be fair, when I was at the Met a few weeks ago, the security guards were indeed all over guests who were wearing backpacks.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:23 AM on April 21, 2013


I recall a recent successful forger saying that Pollock is the easiest to fake, though the details escape me. But here's essentially the same claim. But it seems obvious that faking in this sense means creating a "lost" or "previously unknown" painting supposedly from career gaps, as this fellow does. When accident plays that much of a role in technique, making a fake copy of an existing painting seems like it'd be a different matter entirely.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:37 AM on April 21, 2013


> I never appreciated Pollack or Rothko until I went and saw the works in person and at scale.

I came here to say the same thing, about these two specific artists. I vaguely respected them both but really had no idea what they were about or why people loved them until I went to retrospectives of each and BAM! It's really nuts to try to judge artists and paintings based on reproductions; you might as well judge the Iliad from a plot description. Go to museums, people! (And jazz clubs!)
posted by languagehat at 11:05 AM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anecdote--A Pollock collaborator:

She visited Pollock with her father when she was four (about 1946).
Pollock was painting.
He asked her if she could see 'something' in the painting.
She said she could.
He asked her to stamp it out, which she did.
posted by hexatron at 11:26 AM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also currently being conserved, Mural (1943), at the Getty Conservation Institute. This painting badly needs repairs due to years of poor conservation and neglect. I figure the painting is easily worth well over $200 Million, if it ever went on the market. I mentioned that to the museum director, she said, "well finally, someone agrees with me!"
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


> I never appreciated Pollack or Rothko until I went and saw the works in person and at scale.

After having been in the presence of several Rothkos (at SF MOMA and the Smithsonian), I have to agree.

I still don't really get him -- it doesn't click, I'm not moved, there's no connection -- but seeing his work in person is what helped me understand that there's more going on than just painting big, sloppy rectangles. He's speaking a language I don't understand, it's not gibberish. I had never had any interest in visiting the Rothko Chapel in Houston until I saw No. 14, 1960 at the SF MOMA. That's when his work stopped seeming random to me and instead became something learnable.
posted by ardgedee at 11:31 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dammit, I have to undercut myself. It was this Untitled from 1955.
posted by ardgedee at 11:36 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've seen several Pollacks in person and I still feel like the art world is trying to play some kind of joke on me. Oh well. Someone thinks they're important, at least.
posted by indubitable at 12:45 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure this is a field with high general professional and ethical standards. But since the Sistine Chapel was altered, I can't hear the word "conserved" uttered in reference to a great painting without feeling anger and nausea.

I really wish that conservators were more focused on preventing injury to great works, rather than trying to remedy damage already done. But as cccorlew's anecdote points out, in many cases even the most trivial precautions aren't being taken, though extremely invasive and non-reversable "repairs" are.
posted by CHoldredge at 12:57 PM on April 21, 2013


entropone I hope someday you have enough distance from that day to remember your own presumably profound experience on its own, without also having to remember it having been diminished by watching someone else experience it wrong.
posted by headnsouth at 1:01 PM on April 21, 2013


Given his importance and fame, I find it uncanny how often folks get his name wrong.
posted by progosk at 1:23 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


CHoldredge, I work as a professional conservator, though I don't work with paintings (which is a HIGHLY HIGHLY specialised branch requiring a fair amount of artistic skill and art history knowledge, plus the usual chemistry/scientific knowledge, etc.) I'll try to respond as much as I can, though.

-- There is a lot of preventing going on, I promise! Preventive Conservator is a common job, and focuses specifically on things like controlling the environment a painting is stored or shown in (including temp, humidity and light levels), controlling insect pests, and addressing things like how an influx of people changes the environment in a room -- they track in dust, wear backpacks that bump into things, touch every damn thing ever, etc. There have been *reams* of papers written exploring, for example, what kind of barrier system around large paintings works best.

-- In the last 10-20(ish?) years, there's been a strong movement in conservation for minimal intervention. This is starting to change now, but in my own education, at least, I was strongly required to consider every aspect of a treatment, and to really justify it.

-- Reversibility is ethically incredibly desirable, but sometimes impossible. Sometimes you really don't want a treatment to be reversible. It's an awkward, hard choice.

You bring up really, really great points, and there is a long history of truly terrible conservation intervention (OH MY GOD is there ever a history of this ask me how many weeks of my life have been spent fixing some bright spark's idea of repair...), but we're getting better. I promise.
posted by kalimac at 2:29 PM on April 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Given his importance and fame, I find it uncanny how often folks get his name wrong.

I came very close to posting this with his name misspelled.

posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:33 PM on April 21, 2013


This sort of painting must be a nightmare to conserve. The ability to even tell what is original and what isn't must be a challenge, let alone being able to match something to the original intent of the artist. And dang, solvents. I know enough about conservation solvents that I know I don't want to have to deal with them.
posted by clockbound at 3:00 PM on April 21, 2013


George_Spiggott: I recall a recent successful forger saying that Pollock is the easiest to fake, though the details escape me. But here's essentially the same claim. But it seems obvious that faking in this sense means creating a "lost" or "previously unknown" painting supposedly from career gaps, as this fellow does. When accident plays that much of a role in technique, making a fake copy of an existing painting seems like it'd be a different matter entirely.
Pollack was aware of this problem, and was known to imbed his own hair in his paintings, along with his urine and fingerprints. Not always, but... if any such markers are present, it becomes suddenly much easier to verify.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:14 PM on April 22, 2013


CHoldredge: But since the Sistine Chapel was altered,
in 1515? 1520? The infamous 1550 touchups? Some of the stuff done in the first half of the 17th-century? Or are you referring to the mid-17th work? The later 17th? Who could forget the cleaning of the late 1790s...? The 1810 repainting of some details? Or maybe you're referring to ...
posted by IAmBroom at 1:16 PM on April 22, 2013


I found this little 7 minute video from the Getty Conservation Institute about Conservation of Modern Paints. They make a big deal (too much of a big deal) about their analytical chemistry tools and their vast library of paint samples. But then they show Sam Francis painting oil pigment onto unprepared, raw canvas. Painting this way makes lots os soft bleeding colors that are Francis' specialty. But oil paint on raw canvas will deteriorate the fiber over time. The pigments will last but the canvas substrate will not.

These are the problems of artists. They use whatever is at hand. Pollock was known for mixing incompatible pigments like latex house paint and enamels. That's the curator's nightmare. I've seen paintings by Lee Krasner that were painted with similar techniques, the layers of paint have dried and huge sections have peeled off the wooden base.

So I remind people to paint properly. None of this latex paint and piss stuff. Proper gesso for primer, then paint fat over lean. Future curators will thank you. Future audiences will know you, because your work didn't deteriorate and destroy itself.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:11 PM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


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