This summer a massive Jackson Pollock canvas will make the journey from Iowa to Los Angeles for restoration work. Painted nearly 70 years ago “Mural” is in need of a bit of a facelift due to its size and varnish.
“Mural” is an expansive work measuring approximately twenty feet long by eight feet tall and is described as an important transitional moment in Pollock’s career. Painted in 1943, the work predates Pollock’s trademark drip paintings though points to the development of the technique. The move from symbolic abstraction to abstract expressionism is fundamental in the development of twentieth century art in which Jackson Pollock played a pivotal role. Pollock himself described “Mural” as representing stampeding animals, and the colors and energy of forms recall the frenzy of a stampede with the grace and wildness of many large animals. The work was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, a long term supporter of Pollock, and was then donated to the University of Iowa in 1951 where it has remained since.
The immense size of the canvas has led to sagging, which the Getty Conservation Institute hopes to address. Canvas that is not properly stretched or supported is more susceptible to additional damage and deformation. Though it is unclear why or when, it appears that a layer of varnish was added to the painting several decades after its completion. As of now the varnish has not discolored to the extent of altering the intended appearance, but conservators hope to restore the work to its original condition. While conservation work is being done, other historians and scientists are looking forward to learning more about the piece. Some suspect that though listed as an oil painting, Pollock may have begun using industrial paints at this stage though they were not a fixture of his style until several years later.
This project is a joint effort between the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum and is bringing substantial media attention to an important work. After the conservation, which is estimated to take between 14 and 21 months, “Mural” will spend three months on display at the Getty Center. As part of the Getty’s philanthropic program, the work is being conserved for little or no money in exchange for the opportunity to exhibit the newly restored work for a short time.
“Mural” has also attracted some localized media attention as government officials have considered selling the work. The market value of the piece is unknown as it was donated over sixty years ago, though it is insured for $140 million. Fortunately for the University of Iowa it was decided not to sell the work and it will return to their collection sometime in 2014.
Words Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012