Jackson Pollock, Mural
April 8, 2014 11:48 AM   Subscribe

The restoration of Jackson Pollock"s 1943 painting "Mural" (6 minute autoplay video) In a project that has taken nearly two years, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles have employed various cutting-edge techniques to painstakingly restore Jackson Pollock’s 1943 "Mural".

Commissioned by art collector and dealer Peggy Guggenheim for the entry to her New York City apartment in 1943, Mural by Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956) is considered one of the iconic paintings of the twentieth century. Following extensive study and treatment at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute, this exhibition presents the newly conserved work alongside findings from the Getty's research.
posted by R. Mutt (14 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
A bit of background on the restoration effort from the Getty:
Yvonne Szafran, head of paintings conservation at the Getty Museum, told me last week that “All paintings require some conservation treatment over time, and Mural is no exception. 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. At the very minimum, a new stretcher will be required to provide more adequate support for the painting, which is very heavy.”

Prior to the conservation, the Getty team will be collaborating on an investigation into the materials and techniques of the painting, and together will develop a comprehensive treatment approach.

It’s the technical study which will provide the opportunity to investigate Pollock’s technique, the types of paints he used, and potentially even how Pollock applied them. It’s this kind of revelation that could lead to a whole new insight to the artist’s process.
And CBS News has a summary of the work involved with this recent restoration:
Restorers painstakingly removed a varnish put in place during a 1973 restoration. Although that restoration likely saved the painting, the varnish substantially dimmed the intensity of its colors, said Yvonne Szafran, head of paintings conservation for the Getty.

As restorers returned the work to its original luster, they were also able to dispel some of the many myths surrounding it. The key one, perhaps, was that Pollock created the masterpiece in one nonstop burst of energy that began on New Year's Eve 1943 and lasted 24 to 36 hours.
Very keen stuff, thanks for sharing the video.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:16 PM on April 8, 2014

I would love to see comparisons of an early photo, the 1973 restoration, how it was in 2013, and the 2014 restoration.
posted by Theta States at 12:39 PM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ah, yes. Have been hearing about this, glad to see the video. I've definitely heard stories about bits of Pollocks visible below the paintings.
posted by PussKillian at 12:47 PM on April 8, 2014

FWIW, if you've never seen the Ed Harris movie Pollock, do yourself a favor and take a look. There's an important scene in the movie where Pollock paints Mural. It's by far one of the most powerful depictions of the act of artistic creation I've ever seen.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:58 PM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks CIA! (not meant to be snarky)
posted by el io at 1:22 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

More on the structural distortion and varnish removal.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:23 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

if you've never seen the Ed Harris movie Pollock, do yourself a favor and take a look.

Seconded. Extraordinary.
posted by pjern at 6:50 PM on April 8, 2014

posted by homunculus at 7:18 PM on April 8, 2014

I've had the pleasure of seeing Mural more than once--a couple of times at the University of Iowa art museum and once at the Des Moines Art Center after a flood damaged the UI museum. I hope I can see it again sometime after the restoration.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:54 PM on April 8, 2014

I just went to this at the Getty last week. The paint analysis stuff I found particularly fascinating. The exhibit itself is exhaustive and excellent and I'd recommend anyone visiting or living in L.A. to go check it out. Plus the Getty is just amazing.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:56 AM on April 9, 2014

I used to see this painting several times a week, since it was an icon of my art school. The new shaped stretcher bars is interesting. The way it was hung on a square stretcher, the margins were exposed and some brilliant curator decided to paint them neutral grey so they would not stand out so much. But they just stood out more. And I can't wait to see the varnish removed, but I'm not sure how much of the matte and gloss effects can be recovered from underneath it. And it would really be nice to see the white recovered and bright again, the varnish really deadened the work. I can't wait to see it again.

I talked to the curator quite a bit about the Mural during its storage after the flood. I told her it was probably the single most valuable object in town, it would make well over $250 Million if it ever went up for auction. She said, "finally, someone who agrees with me!" I showed her an eccentric art history research paper I wrote about the Mural, I argued that it a figurative painting, you can see the underpainting of four black figures walking right to left. These are representations of a Hopi Kachina dance, four dancers in a row. The figures become more active and abstract as they move to the left. I found pictures of Hopi pottery bowls that Pollock was using as a source, and it hit me, the painting is supposed to be a cylinder. It depicts figures moving R to L and then the left end of the painting is joined to the right. But we don't know exactly how that would look because Duchamp cut a few inches off the mural edge to make it fit Peggy Guggenheim's parlor wall. Anyway, I mentioned my cylinder theory to the curator and to my surprise, the Museum started selling coffee mugs with Mural on it, sort of like I described. LOL.

I hope the Getty is helping with other works in the collection. I told my curator friend, if you get the Pollock fixed, you should ask for help for this very nice Stuart Davis painting, which should be a brilliant white but you know some idiot ruined it with varnish. It would be easy to restore since the colors are bright and flat. Alas, I think the Ad Reinhart black on black painting is ruined. It had some cracks developing over the years and suffered quite a bit during the relocation. But I don't think it can be repaired, the painting is too subtle, even the most minor repairs would stand out.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:55 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

we don't know exactly how that would look because Duchamp cut a few inches off the mural edge to make it fit

Snip, Snip. Perfect!
posted by R. Mutt at 8:56 AM on April 10, 2014

we don't know exactly how that would look because Duchamp cut a few inches off the mural edge to make it fit

Snip, Snip. Perfect!
posted by R. Mutt

posted by Theta States at 1:56 PM on April 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I looked through some of the articles and I disapprove of the display of the painting against a dark grey background. This painting used to hang on a bare grey concrete wall in a courtyard with black slate tile. It made the painting look dull. I saw the painting in the LA MOCA inaugural exhibit, it was in a bright white room with light blond wood floors. The painting looked vivid, but alas you could also see how much it needed restoration. I wish you could have seen this exhibit, step into the first room of the new museum and there's Mural with some life-size Giacometti Walking Man sculptures around it, echoing the figures in Mural. Then the main show went through the whole museum, at the exit was a huge, brightly lit Yves Klein Blue painting almost exactly the same size as Mural. I used to go see that exhibit almost every week for months, on free night.

I think it was back when Mural was in LA for a year, art historians got more interested and did some research about Pollock's source material. They identified a Native American art exhibit Pollock attended just before painting Mural. In the exhibit was a Kokopelli bowl that has imagery he incorporated directly into the painting, here's a poor quality scan of an image of the bowl. It shows a ritual dance, the dancers moving around the center. Often these Kokopelli bowls are more cylindrical, which is why I hypothesized that Mural is intended to be a cylinder.

The Getty art historian described the walking figures in the painting in more depth, that imagery was not well known until recently. And I was impressed with that interview with Pollock. This painting is the very moment that Pollock asserted that a painters imagery came from within himself, which he talks about in the interview.

I think the painting needs to be understood in the context of the original location in Peggy Guggenheim's parlor. It took up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. People would come to cocktail parties and they'd be in the parlor right up against the painting. The figures in the painting are a bit larger than life size, and would be a figurative background for a room full of people. You could walk across the length of the painting, mirroring the stride of the figures in the painting. Here's a photo of Peggy and Pollock in front of the Mural in the original installation. The bio I read claimed Peggy ostracized Pollock, he drunkenly pissed in her fireplace during a party and stank the place up and she was infuriated. So she took his painting down and put it in storage for years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:55 PM on April 11, 2014

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