September 06, 2006

In The Gallery

Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center, 830 Springs Fireplace Road,

East Hampton

"Jackson Pollock: Small Poured Works, 1943-1950"

Although Peter Schjeldahl in the July 31 New Yorker says he prefers "drip" or "dribble" to "pour" — either term "more accurate and time honored" and more "potent" as a description of Jackson Pollock's innovative technique — Helen Harrison, the director of the Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center (PKHSC), and a well recognized art historian, stays with "pour" — "that's what he did."

The assertion is supported by documentary photographs, by Ed Harris's critically acclaimed performance in Pollock and by pieces with titles such as Composition with Pouring, II (1943) and Composition with Black Pouring (ca. 1947) both of which are in PKHSC's marvelous exhibit of 13 paintings and works on paper. As guest curator and Pollock scholar Francis V. O'Connor writes in an introduction to the handsome PKHSC exhibition catalog, no word other than "poured" could be as apt.

Semantics aside, "Jackson Pollock: Small Poured Works 1943-1950" is an extraordinary show, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pollock's death (August 11, 1956) and coinciding with the Guggenheim Museum's spectacular "No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock Painting on Paper."

Seen in the intimate setting of the Springs house where Pollock lived for 10 years with his wife, Lee Krasner, beginning December 1945, these small works on board, canvas and paper, spanning Pollock's formative and highly productive years, could not ask for a more appropriate exhibition space, for, impressions to the contrary, only one quarter of Pollock's known oeuvre is larger than four feet in either height or width, and most of the works on exhibit at PKHSC are smaller than that . . . and exquisite.

As Ms. Harrison points out, these paintings — some rarely seen — particularly show what Pollock was all about. PKHSC owns the 12" x 20" horizontal Composition with Red Arc and Horses (ca. 1934-38), clearly evidencing the artist's indebtedness to and movement away from Thomas Hart Benton. The painting shows Pollock's attraction to the dark, expressive art of José Clemente Orozco, with no approximation (yet) of that muralist's scale, and gives no hint of how very differently Pollock would disperse paint barely a decade later. Comparing this early piece and the 13 works on loan can be stunningly instructive.

If it's true, as Ms. Harrison suggests, that "you either get it or not," the 13 may be critical in turning around those who feel that Pollock's way of working was accidental or arbitrary. His manner was indeed singular in one respect: he did not make preliminary studies. As this exhibit makes elegantly clear the smaller works were not early versions of larger ones. How did he know when a painting was finished? O'Connor quotes Pollock's puckish response: how do you know when you're finished making love!

Regardless, the works on wonderful display at PKHSC are certain to enhance appreciation of Pollock's legend and legacy, especially among viewers familiar only with large, horizontal canvases, such as Blue Poles or Autumn Rhythm. Because of their size and because they are grouped together, these smaller works — many of them verticals — invite viewers to scrutinize the various ways Pollock spun out and layered his iconic lacy swirls and flecks of pigment. The same expansive "gestural reach" Francis O'Connor stresses, marks all of Pollock's paintings, regardless of scale or style.

All 13 delight, though surprises abound, including a nightmarish, expressionistic 1944 Untitled watercolor, gouache, ink and sgraffito on paper, which, O'Connor writes, anticipates Pollock's "later use of different levels of matte and gloss paint." Viewers may have their favorites, of course, among them, perhaps, the gorgeous waxy red comet-streaked Number 25, 1950, one of only two known Pollock encaustics; the thick white-swirled free-form geometric Shimmering Image (1947); the perfectly composed delicate, densely textured splattered Number 23 (1949); and the unbelievably beautiful silver-webbed Red Vertical Composition 5 (ca. 1950).

An exhibition bonus is architect Peter Blake's 1949 model (reconstructed in 1995 by Patrick Bodden and Susan Tamulevich) of an Ideal Museum for the paintings of Jackson Pollock, which was exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery. Blake's projected museum, modeled on a Mies van der Rohe glass museum, would have shown Pollock's paintings suspended "between earth and sky and set between mirrored walls," as Blake wrote, with some works functioning as walls themselves. The 50' x 100' museum would have sat on the back lawn in Springs, its glass walls invisible conduits to the field and water that lay beyond.

The exhibition runs through September 17.

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