The Eyes

The Eyes

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Peggy Guggenheim's Jackson Pollock Mural

When Jackson Pollock received the commission to create a mural for the entry to Peggy Guggenheim's new townhouse, she 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. The choice of subject was to be his, and the size, 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 signed a gallery contract with Guggenheim in July 1943. The terms were $150 a month and a settlement at the end of the year if his paintings sold. He intended to have the mural done by the time of his show in November. However, as the time approached, the canvas for the mural was untouched. Guggenheim began to pressure him. Pollock spent weeks staring at the blank canvas, complaining to friends that he was "blocked," and seeming to become both obsessed and depressed. Finally, he painted the entire canvas in one frenetic burst of energy around New Year's Day of 1944—although the painting bears the date 1943. 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. Everything is charging across the surface." 
Pollock's "vision" may have been a memory from his childhood in the American West. While there is some suggestion of figuration within Mural, its overall impact is that of abstraction and freedom from the restrictions imposed by figures.

A special installation in the National Gallery of Art’s East Building features Pollock's Mural, on loan from the University of Iowa Museum of Art. Also on view are paintings and works on paper by Pollock from the Gallery’s collection, including Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) (1950). The installation marks the debut of Mural in Washington, DC.

Sources:  National Gallery of Art, Washington
              University of Iowa Museum of Art

Friday, August 4, 2017

American Prints of Urban Life | 1920–1950

American artists of the early twentieth century sought to interpret the beauty, power, and anxiety of the modern age in diverse ways. Some turned to abstraction borrowed from European modernism, but those represented in this exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, The Urban Scene: 1920–1950, took a realistic approach, manipulating light and shadow to create scenes imbued with vitality and imagination. These artists employed precise detail and descriptive clarity to characterize experience, suggest meanings, and convey a narrative. 

The representation of twentieth-century urban life provided them endless opportunities to probe the modern human condition. The urban panorama offered unprecedented vistas. Skyscrapers, bridges, and other technological marvels projected wealth and opportunity, while the city’s towering forms invoked the sublime. Simultaneously, the streets and dwellings of the metropolis hosted life’s theater. Depictions of harmonious communities and workers suggest a utopian vision, whereas scenes of crowding, poverty, and hunger point to society’s ills and failures. The same buildings glorified from one perspective could be interpreted from another as blocking light, deepening shadows, and heightening a sense of enclosure and confinement.

The artists represented here chose their subjects, arranged their compositions, and scrutinized details to convey particular aspects of urban life. They used line to capture the specific features of a face or the unique character of a building, and tone to mimic the play of light — from great shafts of morning sunshine spilling onto avenues to the poetry of the city’s riverside at night with reflections in the water. By selectively emphasizing certain elements and minimizing others, images were distilled to their atmospheric or narrative essence. The best artists balanced specificity with ambiguity, drawing our attention to the fundamental while leaving open to interpretation the implied, the hidden, and the undefined. 

During the past decade, the National Gallery of Art has added extraordinary collections of prints and drawings to its holdings, from the Reba and Dave Williams Collection to the Corcoran Collection and works donated and promised by Bob Stana and Tom Judy. This exhibition highlights some of these acquisitions and reveals how the Gallery’s American print holdings continue to develop, incorporating new artists as well as works that expand its view of printmakers already represented in the collection.

This exhibition is on view at the National Gallery of Art through Sunday, August 6.

The People Work - Evening (1937)
Benton Spruance
Lithograph | 13 5/8 in. x 19 in.

Quiet Hour (1947)
Stow Wengenroth
Lithograph | 8 3/4 in. x 15 in.

Source and Images:  National Gallery of Art, Washington