Jackson Pollock At The Modern:
What I Saw


Robert Sievert


Somewhere around 1948. Things could not be going better for Jackson Pollock, he was flying. Some how he invented a whole new world of painting and led a Cultural Revolution into modern art. This golden period could be seen as the culminating of a life long quest to discover new form. He did but did not have the energy or repose to understand his unique position, to go beyond his major discoveries. There is no late flowering.

One of the really great benefits of such a show that is now at MOMA is that it allows you to follow this stormy vision and see its unfolding and final collapse. As one walks through this massive show one is overwhelmed by the extent of his accomplishment.

The early work is intriguing. It draws you in. Many of the pieces from the early forties and late thirties are monumental. They are clearly deconstructing Picasso and Matisse. The cubist passion for building space is there. This becomes Pollocks main theme. He is constantly thinking new ways to cover space and in fact is laying down the dharma of modern painting. While he was not able to travel long distance with this material he did uncover it.

" Mural " done for Peggy Guggenheim around 1938 is a landmark piece. Here he is able to cover enormous area. He does it well. The painting is clumsy, but succeeds in making defining themes. Rhythm, movement, brushwork become established cannons in this painting. It is as if he has tasted blood, from now on he is seeing the canvass in new terms

I loved the middle period where he discovers throwing paint. By then he was so grounded in his technique that each new work has rapture to it. He is singing full out. Each painting is a discovery and has an unbridled freedom to it.

Later this freedom betrays the painter. As Pollock began to experiment with materials his work loses some of its luster. Especially the work on raw canvas. Fifty years later these paintings have acquired dinginess, as the once pristine surface now is soiled with age. The enamel paint Pollock championed has gone dead. The image still carries but the paintings have lost their impact.

Pollock ran out of gas around 1953. He makes several attempts to reclaim himself, new starts as it were. He makes new work that looks like he's trying to regroup. He restates ideas from previous paintings of the predrip era, again mostly deconstructions of Matisse. At this point one realizes that no one knew better than Pollock that he had painted himself into corner He tried to paint his way out. But there is no sustained effort, ideas die before the paintings done and Pollock produces no more work. This ending to the exhibit throws new light on the final years of Pollock, he could not paint his despair.

One has to get past this dismal demise of