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Refurbished Pollock masterpiece unveiled at the Getty

  • Hacks preview Jackson Pollock's "Mural," 1943, at Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum Monday. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

  • Jackson Pollock's "Mural," 1943, as installed at Los Angeles’ J. Paul Getty Museum Monday. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

LOS ANGELES: “Mural,” the brilliant Jackson Pollock painting that took 20th century American art in a new direction, has re-emerged from seclusion with a stunning face-lift that’s given it a brighter look and an even more towering presence than it had before.

The oil-on-canvas masterpiece that measures more than 2.4 meters tall and nearly 6.1 meters long has been under wraps at the J. Paul Getty Museum for more than a year, undergoing an extensive restoration.

Painted in 1943 for wealthy art collector Peggy Guggenheim, it represents a key moment in Pollock’s career in which he began to move from creating more symbolic, regional forms to the abstract expressionism of his “drip” paintings that would both distinguish his career and transform the art world.

“This painting made a cultural shift in a modern artist who redefined art in the 20th century,” said J. Paul Getty Trust President Jim Cuno.

“Mural” will hang at the hilltop museum until June 1. When visitors got their first glimpses of the painting Tuesday, they might have noticed a far more colorful work than the one that hung for decades in the University of Iowa Museum of Art, which received it as a gift from Guggenheim in 1951.

Restorers painstakingly removed a varnish put in place during a 1973 restoration. Although that restoration likely saved the painting, the varnish substantially dimmed the intensity of its colors, said Yvonne Szafran, the Getty’s head of paintings conservation.

As restorers returned the work to its original luster, they were also able to dispel some of the many myths surrounding it. The key one, perhaps, was that Pollock created the masterpiece in one nonstop burst of energy that began on New Year’s Eve 1943 and lasted 24 to 36 hours.

Although the artist told his brother he spent the summer of 1943 working on it, the marathon myth was spread by Guggenheim and Pollock’s wife and might have been the result of a misunderstanding.

Restorers noticed that Pollock’s initial paint marks, which cover the whole canvas, were made in four highly diluted colors and they could have been put on in a day, said Tom Learner, head of the Getty Conservation Institute. The other, more substantial additions would have taken much longer to dry.

Pollock was only 31, and a relative unknown, when he completed the work. In the years that followed, he would shake up the art world with his “drip paintings,” which used house paints that he would pour directly onto canvases placed on the floor.

Although there’s no evidence he placed “Mural” on the floor, and its many brush strokes are obvious, restorers did discover the use of house paint on parts of the canvas. The rest was created with high-quality artists’ oils.

Filled with colorful, twisting animal-like forms, the painting was described by the artist himself as representing a stampede of animals from the American West.

“We can’t say with certainty that it’s the first known use of house paints by Pollock,” Learner said as he pointed out areas where it was used. “But it’s the earliest known analyzed use.”

When Pollock finished the painting, it wouldn’t quite fit into the entryway to Guggenheim’s New York City apartment, so the ends were folded slightly. That prompted rumors it had been cut.

“It definitely wasn’t cut,” Learner said, noting the ends have been restored to view.

To allow people to view a painting of such significance is key to the University of Iowa Museum of Art’s educational mission.

“This is a generation that believes the world is on an iPhone and as long as you see a picture of it, you have experienced the work,” said the Iowa museum’s director, Sean O’Harrow. “Well, obviously that’s not case.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 12, 2014, on page 16.
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Summary

"Mural," the brilliant Jackson Pollock painting that took 20th century American art in a new direction, has re-emerged from seclusion with a stunning face-lift that's given it a brighter look and an even more towering presence than it had before.

Painted in 1943 for wealthy art collector Peggy Guggenheim, it represents a key moment in Pollock's career in which he began to move from creating more symbolic, regional forms to the abstract expressionism of his "drip" paintings that would both distinguish his career and transform the art world.

Pollock was only 31, and a relative unknown, when he completed the work. In the years that followed, he would shake up the art world with his "drip paintings," which used house paints that he would pour directly onto canvases placed on the floor.

When Pollock finished the painting, it wouldn't quite fit into the entryway to Guggenheim's New York City apartment, so the ends were folded slightly.


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