Jackson Pollock: Modernism’s Shooting Star

"When Jackson Pollock died in a car crash in August 1956," writes author Phyllis Tuchman, "the 44-year-old artist hadn't made a painting in over a year. During the previous two and a half years, Pollock had executed only four significant pictures, but he seemed ready to get back to work.... In a few months, he was to become the first artist of his generation — the then-emergent Abstract Expressionists — to be honored with a mid-career survey of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York." The show, which opened in December 1956, became a memorial to the most important abstractionist in American art history.

Some 40 years later, Pollock is the subject of another major exhibition at MOMA. The retrospective, which will be on view from November 1 through February 2, 1999, features more than 150 paintings and works on paper executed during a career of approximately 25 years.

Born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912, Pollock was raised mainly in California and from there made his way to New York City, where he studied with artist Thomas Hart Benton. The paintings he produced during the early years variously reflect the influence of Benton, Albert Pinkham Ryder and the Mexican muralists. They also reveal hints of American Indian symbology, Jungian archetypes and the work of Picasso and other European modernists.

The centerpieces of the MOMA show, however, are Pollock's seminal "drip" or "poured" paintings — large "portable murals" that he made by dripping Duco and other house paints onto wall-size canvas spread across the studio floor. With these "astonishingly eloquent" paintings, writes Tuchman, "Pollock did something few other American artists have ever achieved: he showed how an abstractionist could make beautiful, profound, enigmatic, graceful canvases endowed with poetry and meaning."

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