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The Halfway State:
Curator Susan Davidson on the Jackson Pollock exhibition "No Limits, Just Edges"

Portrait of the artist, 1951 Photo: Arnold Newman
©Arnold Newman/ Liaison Agency/ Getty Images

When asked what he’d save if his house caught on fire, Jackson Pollock answered: "the fire". In No Limits, Just Edges , an exhibition opening at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Pollock’s work reveals the success of what he called "a halfway state". So it follows that in 1947, when Jackson Pollock applied for and received a Guggenheim Fellowship, that the artist planned to create pictures that "would constitute a halfway state, an attempt to point out the direction of the future, without arriving there completely".

Pollock’s work precariously, yet purposefully, hung in the balance between painting and drawing; each contained a unique speed and depth often misinterpreted as "chaos". Pollock, however, knew perfectly well what he was going for. His wife, Lee Krasner , saw it as "some new category". His drawings, though frequently referring to Cezanne’s telltale lines, delivered new information. While the 1950 issue of TIME magazine saw this advance as a state of chaos and confused Pollock’s emotional intensity for emotional frenzy, the artist had quite another take on his work, declaring: "No chaos, damn it."

Susan Davidson, Curator, Guggenheim Museum
Courtesy: Cheryl Kaplan 2004
©Cheryl Kaplan. All rights reserved.

Cheryl Kaplan met with Susan Davidson, art curator at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, to talk with her about No Limits, Just Edges, the show she organized for Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. The exhibition and its comprehensive catalogue constitute a complete retrospective of Pollock’s drawings.

Cheryl Kaplan: Jackson Pollock famously said: "I approach painting as one approaches drawing: direct. I don’t work from drawings, I don’t make sketches into a final painting." Why was eliminating drawing as a preparatory step to painting so important to Pollock’s work? Was it radical?

Susan Davidson: He eliminated drawing in the traditional aspect of drawing being a preparatory mode for painting. Pollock drew as he painted. That’s what was radical about it. No one had actually fused those 19th-century ideals in the way Pollock had.

Though Cezanne had actually begun to think about drawing in that way.

Jackson Pollock, Untiteld 1939-42
The Whitney Museum of American Art
©Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

But the times didn’t allow him to do it. Cezanne’s pictures have a level of drawing underneath which Pollock’s don’t.

When does the show of drawings at the Deutsche Guggenheim start?

It’s a full retrospective, beginning with a beautiful landscape drawing I’d call juvenilia from the early 30s, just as he’s coming to New York and working with Thomas Hart Benton. It has a dogmatic regionalism and realism embedded into him by Benton. Until then, his drawing wasn’t very refined. It’s one of the more refined and realistic drawings.

Jackson Pollock, Harbor and Lighthouse, 1934-38
Collection Beatrice Cunmmings Mayer, Chicago
©Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

Was it critical for Pollock to stop using drawing as a preparatory gesture?

I’m not sure it was a conscious effort. The work is so expressive and immediate.

Was this decision an evolution?

Yes, in the sense that he skipped a step.

Pollock is really framed between Cezanne and Benton.

The surrealist moment really contributed to Pollock’s work, training him to be "automatic". Though I’m not sure Pollock wasn’t anymore steeped in it than Motherwell or others hanging around with him at Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery.

Jackson Pollock , Untitled, c.1946
Peggy Guggenheim Collection , Venice
(Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, New York)
©Pollock-Krasner Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

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