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No Limits, Just Edges:
Jackson Pollock at the Deutsche Guggenheim

Starting on January 29, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin will be dedicating a large retrospective to the drawings of Jackson Pollock, titled "No Limits, Just Edges."

Untitled, 1951
©Pollock-Krasner Foundation/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

"The modern artist… is working and expressing an inner world - in other words - expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces." This quote of Jackson Pollock's seems custom-tailored to the role he played in 20th-century art. Pollock is considered to be the most important American Abstract Expressionist and pioneer of "Action Painting," an artist maudit and American Prometheus. When the artist, who'd had relatively little success up until that point, was discovered and promoted in 1943 by Peggy Guggenheim, a spectacular career began that lasted a mere ten years. On August 11 1956, Pollock drove into a tree, drunk, killing one of his female passengers along with himself. The legend he left behind was largely due to his "Drip Paintings," in which he sprayed, poured, and spackled paint or simply dripped it onto canvases spread out on the studio floor. More than any other works by a contemporary artist, Pollock's abstract paintings were celebrated in the nineteen-fifties as the quintessential expression of an independent contemporary American art.

Die Maske, ca. 1943
©Pollock-Krasner Foundation/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2004

"No Limits, Just Edges": the title of the first German retrospective of Jackson Pollock's drawings plays on the artist's all-over works, which transgressed every painting limitation known at the time. Yet it only partially conveys what the visitor can expect to see. The drawings span the period between 1940 and 1950 and do indeed form the exhibition's main focus, referring as they do to the time of the "Drip Paintings," when Pollock developed his inimitable style. Yet the exhibition also provides an overview of the artist's early creative phase and features numerous pages from early sketchbooks as well as studies done from Old Master paintings and revolutionary Mexican artists. A fascination for Native American art also played an important role in Pollock's early development, as did an involvement with psychoanalysis, European Surrealism, and the work of Pablo Picasso.

In 1928, Jackson Pollock entered the Manual Arts High School in New York at the age of 16. Due to his difficult family situation, depression and alcoholism marked his life from early on. After being thrown out of school twice, he signed up at the Art Students League in 1930, where he attended the painting class of Thomas Hart Benton, whom Pollock's brother Charles had already studied with. Benton, a representative of American Regionalism, categorically dismissed European Modernism, instead seeking stylistic orientation in the works of El Greco, Tintoretto, and Rubens. Without falling prey to a chauvinist provincialism, he concentrated on a painting that combined a powerful formulation of plastic criteria with themes from the conquering of the West and the life of the Native Americans. The "Imaginary West" that Pollock addressed in his early works is indebted to Benton's principle of the classical American landscape as an "extended horizontality." Two early graphic works in the exhibition, Harbor and Lighthouse (ca. 1934-38) and Gay Head (ca. 1936), document this influence. Thus, Pollock depicts motifs of the cultivated American East Coast as though it were a wilderness newly discovered by pioneers.

Thomas Hart Benton:
The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley, 1934,
Courtesy Collection of the Spencer Museum of Art

Pollock's encounter with the Mexican muralists David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco left a lasting impression. Siqueiros and Orozco were among the most politically active artists of the time. Siqueiros, who had moved from Mexico to Los Angeles in 1932 as a result of his Communist principles, led a workshop that Pollock took part in in 1936. Siqueiros deeply impressed the young Pollock, above all in a technical sense; he encouraged his students to use industrial enamels and paints and to incorporate sand and other materials to liven up their paintings.

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