Pollock Now The Museum of Modern Art, New
York, November, 1998 -February 2,1999
reviewed by Sparrow
Some people say this is the most important
painting of the century," a 67-year old
woman told her friend as they stood before
"Mural," which Jackson Pollock painted
in 1943. "Mural" was then his largest
painting, utterly abstract, resembling a huge
colorful handwriting exercise. "But I
don't like it," the woman contin ued.
"It's too ferocious."
Yes, Jackson Pollock was ferocious. His great
early painting, "The She-Wolf,"
was perhaps a self-portrait. Pollock was born
in Cody, Wyoming, and descended on New York
like a she-wolf to devour its art. While studying
with Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students
League, his notebooks (shown last year at
the Metropolitan Museum) document his struggle
with socialist realism, Cubism, surrealism,
Mostly Pollock fought Picasso. At that time,
fighting Picasso was like fighting gravity.
("The She-Wolf," for example, looks
like a Picasso painting, only fuzzier.) Picasso
had invented a system of colors and shapes
that ex pressed every human mystery—love,
war, death. All artists used his vocabu lary,
the way each poet works in the shadow of Shakespeare.
Then in 1945 Jackson Pollock found an area
Picasso had not painted: sound. He and his
wife, Lee Krasner, moved to The Springs, in
East Hampton, Long Island. There they lived
with no hot water and only a coal stove as
heat. At night Jackson heard sounds, which
he began to paint. "The Sounds In The
Grass" series had no discern ible figures.
"The She-Wolf's" fuzziness was growing
Jackson pursued the sounds insect noises and
distant car horns—which led him to the
radi cal wealth of jazz. He wanted the syncopation
and fervor Lester Young played on saxophone.
Pollock began to spill paint, in a muscular
dance, on canvases in his barn.
Then he broke through. "One: No.31, 1950"
is a vast panorama of jazz-inflected sounds.
It looks like a Picasso painting blown to
pieces. Also, it's beautiful.
What do Pollock's paintings mean to us now?
No one paints his way anymore, except as a
hip academic joke. Even he stopped paint ing
his way, after "Blue Poles: No. 11, 1952."
His last works had figures, and resembled
his paintings of 1941.
Yet thousands of Ameri cans throng to this
show, as if it were a new Star Wars movie.
(I waited 35 minutes just to get in the museum,
on a line that stretched halfway along St.
Thomas' Church, next door.) And Pollock's
story is a kind of Star Wars movie. His masterworks
are the size and shape of movie screens, and
his conflict with Picasso parallels Luke Skywalker's
duels with Darth Vader. The most crowded room
of the show was a video of him painting "Autumn
Rhythm: No.30, 1950"— the movie
within the movie.
Only Pollock's unhappy ending—a descent
into depression, alcohol and early death in
a car—deviate from the Star Wars plot.
But Americans seek a tragic hero now—the
she-wolf who ram-pages from the mountains,
rips apart the bonds of art, and returns to
the mountain to wail and die.
In 1999, we are tired of happy endings.
This article was published in New Renaissance,
Volume 9, No. 1, issue 27