|JACKSON POLLOCK Number 21 Oil and enamel on fiberboard, 1950|
I'M THINKING 1950. What a difference a year makes - Just this morning I thought, 'where' was art in 1950?'
We have been intensely involved in the sale of a Jackson Pollock, a very beautiful, lyric, powerful 'drip painting'.
I read, "Picasso compared to Pollock seemed like a quiet conformist, a painter out of the past" Iconoclastic? Do we see art at this junction today? Food for future thoughts...
In what other era could I have answered that question in a nanosecond?
Contemporary collectors will chuckle and nod reading: "18 Painters Boycott Metropolitan; Charge 'Hostility to Advanced Art'," The New York Times, May 22, 1950.
Abstract Expressionist collectors will puzzle-over but may not recall Bill (yes it was Bill not Willem in those days) de Kooning saying of MoMA'S WOMAN 1 Willem de Kooning: "Maybe... I was painting the woman in me.... Women irritate me sometimes. I painted that irritation in the Woman series. That's all."
Bill's great Woman I and Jackson's great Number 31 are on view in the heart of NYC today, thru April 25th at MoMA. Abstract Expressionist New York October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011 Run, don't walk, if you've seen the show once, see it again. It's a show of great riches and some dross - It's a wonderful show, the best of the best with a supporting cast of good to mediocre.
HIGHLIGHTS OF 1950
January 23, 1950: Barnett Newman's first solo exhibition opens at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
1950: Mark Rothko exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
Eleven paintings were included ranging in price from $500 to $1,500, with the average price being about $1,100.00.
February-19 - March 1950: "Seventeen Modern American Painters: The School of New York" exhibition at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut.
The exhibition would travel to the Frank Perls Gallery in Beverly Hills, California from January 11 - February 7, 1951. It included Jackson Pollock's Number 3, 1949: Tiger (1949). Robert Motherwell wrote the preface for the catalogue. He titled the preface "The School of New York."
"I mean ultimately at the end of 1949 and the beginning of 1950 I invented the term "School of New York." I was asked to write the preface to the first showing on the West Coast and in trying to find common denominators among the various people (including some people that we now would not regard as Abstract Expressionist), I realized that one couldn't make aesthetically a common denominator; but that what everybody did have in common in the sense that there was a School of Paris or in those days a Boston School of Jewish Expressionist painters, there was a New York School. But the word "New York" was meant in another sense. There is no such thing as Abstract Expressionism. They're a collection of individuals working with certain aspirations or whatever."
"Ad Reinhardt and Motherwell had decided to have a group of artists and call them the New York School. The first meetings were held at Ad Reinhardt's studio somewhere near NYU. There were like twenty people there. [Motherwell] said, 'There's no use having a New York school unless we know who you are.' Motherwell was a banker's son with a lot of influence at The Museum of Modern Art. He had power and connections. At that meeting, I couldn't believe it. I thought it was crazy to suggest that we could be a New York school... I wasn't saying much because I was thinking, 'This is a lot of shit.' But I did say something and Motherwell said, 'Milton, I couldn't have said that better myself.' That was the last straw. That son-of-a-bitch college boy thinks he knows something. So when we left I felt as if Bill and I were of the same mind... And I said 'That's the first time I heard about the pot of gold and the rainbow and the gold is right there to begin with.' So Bill said, 'You're a fucking nihilist. You don't want to be in.' We were standing in front of the Cedar Bar. And I said, 'You go in. I'm not going in with you.' That was the first time we saw differently.
March, 1950: Jackson Pollock's therapist dies.
Dr. Edwin Heller died in a car accident ending his successful treatment of Pollock's alcoholism. In November Jackson started drinking again, ending the longest period of sobriety he would have as an adult.
March 28 - April 24, 1950: "Selected Paintings by the Late Arshile Gorky" exhibition at the Kootz Gallery.
April 1950: A symposium on the new art is held at Studio 35.
The three day symposium at Studio 35, "Modern Artists in America," was organized by Robert Motherwell and Ad Reinhardt. Among the people attending were Alfred Barr from the Museum of Modern Art, David Smith, Ralph Rosenborg, James Brooks, Bradley Walker Tomlin, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Willem de Kooning and Milton Resnick. One of the topics covered was what to call the bourgeoning abstract art movement in New York. Names suggested included Abstract-Expressionist, Abstract-Symbolist, Abstract-Objectionist. Brooks thought that 'direct' or 'concrete' art might be a 'more accurate' term for the art being produced. De Kooning commented, "It is disastrous to name ourselves."
It was at the end of the symposium that Adolph Gottlieb suggested that the artist protest the juries selected for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's national contemporary art competition. An "open letter," written mainly by Adolph Gottlieb (and hand delivered to The New York Times by Barnett Newman was produced, signed by fourteen painters at the symposium (including Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne and Theodoros Stamos), plus four additional painters (including Jackson Pollock and apparently Mark Rothko who was in Europe at the time). [Note: According to art writer, Irving Sandler, the letter was "signed by eighteen painters and supported by ten sculptors."]
Late April - May 1950: "Talent 1950" exhibition at the Kootz Gallery.
The exhibition featured one work each by twenty-three artists chosen by Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro. It included work by Robert Goodnough, Larry Rivers, Esteban Vincente, Friedebald Dzubas (aka Friedel Dzubas), Harry Jackson, Alfred Russell, Elaine de Kooning and Franz Kline.
June 8 - October 15, 1950: Alfred Barr chooses Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning (Excavation) and Arshile Gorky for the Venice Biennale.
Six artists were chosen to participate in an exhibition of younger American painters in the U.S. Pavilion to accompany a retrospective of John Marin. Barr chose Willem de Kooning (Excavation), Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock. Pollock showed three paintings - Number 1A, 1948; Number 12, 1949; and Number 23, 1949. Alfred Frankfurter, editor of Art News at the time, chose the other three artists - Hyman Bloom, Rico Lebrun and Lee Gatch. (Gatch had exhibited as part of The Ten in their second exhibition at the Montross Gallery which took place December 14, 1936 - January 2, 1937.)
When Barr explained his choices in the June 1950 issue of Art News, he noted that "several names have been used to describe this predominant vanguard: 'symbolic abstraction,' 'abstract expressionism,' 'subjectivism,' 'abstract surrealism.'"
Aline Louchheim, reporting on the Biennale, complained in the September 10th issue of The New York Times that "Europeans do not bother to give our pavilion very serious consideration." Although Marin had "received passing praise" Louchheim noted that "even the most intelligent critics... spent little time looking at Gorky and de Kooning." Pollock was "a special case." According to Louchheim his "detailed description of how he works (dripping paint, etc. on to canvas spread on the floor) has been assiduously translated and is grounds for violent arguments pro and con all abstract and automatic art."
July 1, 1950: Jackson Pollock meets Hans Namuth.
Pollock was at the opening of the exhibition "Ten East Hampton Abstractionists" at the the Guild Hall in East Hampton. Included in the show were works by Pollock, Lee Krasner, James Brooks, John Little, Wilfred Zogbaum, Buffie Johnson and other artists who had moved to the area. Namuth, a photographer from Harper's Bazaar, introduced himself and told him that he was renting a house for the summer in Water Mill. Namuth told Jackson he admired his work and would like to photograph him although not necessarily for Harper's Bazaar. Jackson agreed to do it. When Namuth rang the following week to make an appointment, Jackson promised Namuth that he could photograph him starting and possibly finishing a painting, just as he had promised Art News earlier in the year. When Namuth arrived Pollock told him that the painting was actually finished and that he did not plan to do any more work that day. Namuth asked if he could see Pollock's studio and Pollock and Krasner took him into the studio. A still-wet large painting was lying on the floor. Namuth viewed the canvas through his viewfinder and suddenly Pollock picked up a brush and started to paint. Namuth started shooting - the session lasted about half an hour with Namuth photographing Pollock as he was painting.
When Namuth brought the developed photos to Pollock the next weekend, Pollock asked if he had more. He didn't. So, throughout the summer Namuth returned to the Springs on the weekends to take more photographs. He ended up taking 200 photographs of Pollock working on One: Number 31, 1950 and Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950. The photographs would be published in 1951.
June 8, 1950: Bruno Alfieri compares Jackson Pollock to Picasso in L'Art Moderna.
The article was titled "Piccolo discorso sui quadri di Jackson Pollock (con testimonianza dell'artista)" (approx. translation: Small discourse on the pictures of Jackson Pollock (with testimony of the artist).
Pollock couldn't understand Italian but was impressed by the fact that Alfieri used his name and that of Picasso in the same sentence: "E al confronto di Pollock, Picasso, il povero Pablo Picasso... diventa un quieto e conformista pittore del passato." (Picasso compared to Pollock seemed like a quiet conformist, a painter out of the past.)
The rest of the article was less positive. Time magazine used the negative comments from the article in a news item on November 20, 1950 (see below).
July 22 - August 12/15: Jackson Pollock exhibition in Venice.
The solo exhibition from Peggy Guggenheim's collection of Pollock's work ran at the Museo Correr in Venice while the Biennale was also taking place. Pamphlets and publications about the exhibition give two ending dates - August 12 on some and August 15 on others.
Twenty paintings, two gouaches, and one drawing by Pollock were shown, including Alchemy, Croaking Movement, Enchanted Forest, Eyes in the Heat, Full Fathom Five, The Moon Woman, Reflection of the Big Dipper, Sea Change, Two, and The Water Bull. The Water Bull and Reflection of the Big Dipper had been given by Guggenheim to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam which lent them for the show.
A smaller version of the show traveled to the Galleria d'Arte del Naviglio, Milan.
Jackson Pollock's Reflection of the Big Dipper can be seen at: http://stedelijk.di.nl/WerkDetails.aspx?ID=3674.
August 1950: Franz Kline gets a job as an art instructor at a summer resort.
David Orr got Kline the job of speaking on contemporary art to guests at the Schroon Crest resort at Schroon Lake near Pottersville, New York. He received room and board and had use of a small studio but was not paid a salary.
Autumn 1950: "Young Painters in the U.S. and France" at the Sidney Janis Gallery.
The exhibition, which Janis worked on with Leo Castelli, paired American artists with French ones. De Kooning's Woman (1949-50) was paired with Jean Dubuffet's L'Homme au chapeau bleu (1950). Jackson Pollock was paired with Lanskoy, Mark Rothko with de Staël and Kline with Soulages.
Autumn 1950: Willem de Kooning teaches at Yale.
Josef Albers had become the head of the design department at Yale after leaving Black Mountain College in 1949. He asked de Kooning to come to Yale as the "visiting critic in painting at the School of Fine Arts and Architecture." De Kooning, who would later describe himself as more of a "song-and-dance man" than "an academic" was paid $1,600 for his teaching stint. At the first class some of the students mistook de Kooning for the janitor. Robert Jonas later recalled that de Kooning apparently told one student "You think because your father is rich, culture is going to stick to your ass" and told Albers "These guys are so lousy. Why don't you flunk them?" Albers replied "If they were plumbers or carpenters I would. But they're just painters. They can't do any harm to anyone." The following year, however, de Kooning would write to Albers that he "developed so large a sentiment for the place [Yale]... partly because I never got anything like that in my own youth." Although Albers offered de Kooning a chance to continue teaching after his period of "visiting critic" was over, de Kooning (who pronounced "Yale" like "jail" with his Dutch accent) declined, encouraging him instead to hire Franz Kline who needed the money
1950: Robert Motherwell joins the graduate faculty at Hunter College.
Motherwell would teach at Hunter College until 1958.
October 16 - November 4, 1950: Franz Kline's first one-man show in New York.
Kline's first one-man show in New York took place at the Egan Gallery located at 63 East 57th Street. Kline designed the four page brochure for the exhibition. Emmanuel Navaretta who shared Kline's loft for about eleven months in 1950, recalled that Kline struggled with the brochure spending hours lettering his own name and complaining to Navaretta that "I haven't got a signature." Kline had struggled previously with his signature. His wife later recalled that he had trouble with his signature while living in England, as well.
November 10 - December 31, 1950: Whitney Annual.
Included Jackson Pollock's Number 3, 1950.
November 14 - December 4, 1950: "Motherwell: First Exhibition of Paintings in Three Years" at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery.
November 20, 1950: Jackson Pollock appears in Time magazine.
The news item was titled "Chaos, Damn It!" and noted that "The Museum of Modern Art's earnest Alfred Barr, who picked Pollock, among others, to represent the U.S. in Venice's big Biennale exhibition last summer, described his art simply as "an energetic adventure for the eyes." It also quoted negative comments made by Critic Bruno Alfieri in L'Art Moderna about Pollock's paintings shown earlier in Venice (see above).
Bruno Alfieri [quoted in Time from his article in L'Art Moderna]
"It is easy," Alfieri confidently began, "to describe a [Pollock]. Think of a canvas surface on which the following ingredients have been poured: the contents of several tubes of paint of the best quality; sand, glass, various powders, pastels, gouache, charcoal ... It is important to state immediately that these 'colors' have not been distributed according to a logical plan (whether naturalistic, abstract or otherwise). This is essential. Jackson Pollock's paintings represent absolutely nothing: no facts, no ideas, no geometrical forms. Do not, therefore, be deceived by such suggestive titles as 'Eyes in Heat' or 'Circumcision'. . . It is easy to detect the following things in all of his paintings:
- Absolute lack of harmony.
- Complete lack of structural organization.
- Total absence of technique, however rudimentary.
- Once again, chaos.
But these are superficial impressions, first impressions . . . Each one of his pictures is part of himself. But what kind of man is he? What is his inner world worth? Is it worth knowing, or is it totally undistinguished? Damn it, if I must judge a painting by the artist it is no longer the painting that I am interested in . . ."
(Time magazine, November 20, 1950)
An angry Pollock sent a telegram to Time which was reprinted in its December 11th issue:
Jackson Pollock [telegram to Time]: ‘No chaos damn it. Damn busy painting as you can see by my show coming up Nov. 28. I've never been to Europe. Think you left out the most exciting part of Mr. Alfieri's piece." For Jackson, the "most exciting part" of the piece was the bit that compared Pollock to Picasso.
November 25, 1950: Jackson Pollock starts drinking again.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Hans Namuth finished filming Jackson Pollock outdoors while he painted on glass. After the filming was finished Pollock went into the kitchen and poured out two drinks: "Hans, come have a drink with me." Namuth walked into the kitchen followed by a guest, Alfonso Ossorio, and Lee Krasner. Jackson had one drink and then didn't stop. He pulled off a string of cowbells hanging in the kitchen doorway and threatened to hit his guests with it. Lee suggested sitting down for dinner. Pollock started insulting Namuth at the dinner table and then suddenly picked up the table sending the roast beef to the floor. Lee washed off the roast beef and returned it to the table. Pollock picked the table up a second time, again causing the dishes to fly off it. "Coffee will be served in the living room," Lee announced. Pollock left the house and drove away in his car.
July 22 - August 12/15: Jackson Pollock exhibition in Venice.
The solo exhibition from Peggy Guggenheim's collection of Pollock's work ran at the Museo Correr in Venice while the Biennale was also taking place.
November 28 - December 16, 1950: Jackson Pollock's fourth solo show at the Betty Parsons Gallery.
32 paintings were shown, hung from floor to ceiling. Works included Lavender Mist: Number 1; Number 3; Number 7; Number 8; Number 27; Number 28; Number 29; Autumn Rhythm: Number 30; One: Number 31 and Number 32. [The painting Vered Gallery is presently offering was included in this exhibition.]
Reviews in the general press were mixed - reviews in the art press were favorable. Robert Coates in The New Yorker (December 9, 1950) criticized One: Number 31 and Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 for their "meaningless embellishment." Howard Devree in The New York Times asked his readers "Does [Jackson Pollock's] personal comment ever come through to us?" Belle Krasne [B.K.] wrote in Art Digest (December 1, 1950) that the work was Pollock's "richest and most exciting to date" and Art News chose the exhibition as the second best solo show in their January 1951 issue. (John Marin was first and Alberto Giacometti was third).
To read about MoMA's current AbEx Exhibition Click here.
Posted In: History on Saturday February 12, 2011
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