Glimpsing just a fragment of Jackson Pollock‘s gigantic masterpiece through the exhibition entrance, the artist’s virility and voraciousness pulsates through the travertine stone of the Getty Museum’s West Pavilion.
The colors on the newly-resotred “Mural” lured me into the room where the approximately eight by nineteen foot canvas stood in solitude. During the restoration, the painting, originally commissioned in summer of 1943 for a wall in Peggy Gugenheim’s New York home, was re-stretched (which was particularly difficult, as the painting sags, an perfect imperfect rectangle), and a team of conservationists removed the varnishing applied by the University of Iowa, which owns the painting.
The refreshed painting shone bold with deep cobalt blues that tapered into ever-so-slightly paler cerulean ones, pinks, vermillion, and an array of other colors not always evident in photographs.
Monolithic figures, reminiscent of Pollock’s Jungian archetypes depicted in paintings such as “Male and Female” (1942), saunter and scroll across the canvas in profile view akin to Egyptian hieroglyphics. They carry with them the spirit of the artist, some genius made visible, expressed, preserved for viewers to see. Through Pollock’s scrolls, drips, and frenetic gestures, one can also see a struggle with dark alcoholic tendencies that eventually cost the artist his life in the fatal car crash of 1969.
Though, according to Christopher Knight of Los Angeles Times: “The painting is incorrectly installed in the gallery. It’s hung too high on the wall — almost at knee level, when it should be only ankle-high. The error is significant. Essentially, ‘Mural’ should be a wall, as the artist planned it for Guggenheim’s apartment entry, not a painting on a wall, as the Getty has it.” In the exhibition, a diagram of how the painting hung in Guggenheim’s entry demonstrates Knight’s point.
Despite this mistake, the exhibition gives important insights into the painting that is so significant to abstract expressionism and modern art. Beyond information about Guggenheim, Pollock, and the restoration process, the exhibition lays out scientific evidence found during the work’s two year stay at Getty, demonstrating Pollock’s talents and training as an artist. X-rays show dominance of colors in different parts of the canvas, which highlight or form shapes. Paint mixing illustrate how Pollock mixed his paint for his signature splatters and drips (with linseed oil and some turpentine to stick or with just turpentine to splatter), which hold their form when applied to either horizontal or vertical canvases.
Finally, the exhibition debunks the myth that has, for seventy years, shrouded the painting in an air of mystery and artist genius. As the myth goes, Pollock was stumped by the large canvas, leaving it blank for months, until, the night before he was to deliver it to Guggenheim, he painted the entire canvas in a flurry of inspiration. Using magnification of the paint, Getty proves that one layer of oil paint had time to dry as it did not mix with the top layer, which it would have done if wet paint had been applied on wet paint. But even with the myth of overnight creation debunked, the painting is awe-inspiring and a must see in the next week for any art-loving Angeleno before the exhibition closes on June 1.