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Painting (Silver over Black, White, Yellow and Red)
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Jackson Pollock 2
Barcelona is a city where you need to read the exhibition titles carefully. So if it says ‘Explosion! The legacy of Jackson Pollock’, do not expect a large selection of works by Pollock (1912-1956) himself. Bearing that in mind, you are however offered an interesting show, well researched, and well presented by curator Magnus af Petersens, from the Moderna Museet Stockholm—which is coproducing it with Fundació Miró.
The key to the show it that the paintings you can now see on the wall were in fact created by laying them on the floor. Back in the late 1940’s, Pollock decided to randomly dip paint while walking on and around the canvas, in a kind of dance driven by chance and instinct. The outcome was clear: the picture was no more a framed representation of reality, but the result of an act of free action.
The reaction to these “action paintings” by Pollock and fellow American Expressionists was both prompt and far reaching, not at least thanks to the works of the new mass media. Soon after, French Yves Klein was making “body imprints” with nude models leaving a ghostly mark on the canvas with their bodies previously covered in paint; Lynda Benglis decided to spare the canvas, and pour directly from the can onto the floor; in Germany, Sweden, the UK and Austria these and more poignant types of “happenings” flourished, and canvases got shot, fired, and even pissed on. In Japan, some of the most extreme practitioners banded together in the Gutai group, specifically featured in the show.
Why was the response so quick and so international? Where did all the energy come from? Petersens gives you an answer in his essay for the exhibition’s catalogue: “The awareness of the horrors of war, the Holocaust and the atom bomb made it impossible to go on creating art as though nothing had happened”. If the menace was global, and felt as a certainty, the response needed to be global too, and urgently put in place. If the atomic bomb reaped boundless destruction, the artist needed to advocate for boundless creation.
Here is perhaps where the real value of this show lies. It acts as a mirror, showing you how some assumptions we now take for granted (unbridled action as a form of freedom, internationalism as a token of truthfulness), took root, just two generations ago, in that old, persistent way of human creativity we call painting. And, noteworthy, it comes some weeks before Tate Modern in London opens ‘A Bigger Splash. Painting after Perfomance’ (November 14th to April 1st), which, as its title says, shares common ground with the show in the Miró.
“I am very happy to see this exhibition in the Fundació Miró”, Petersens told me in a brief exchange after the press tour. He was referring to the fact that Pollock found inspiration in pre-war Surrealism, and that Miró’s “destruction of the painting” during the 1930’s could be seen as a precedent. You can see some of that in the excellent permanent collection of the Fundació itself, which you can access directly from the last room of the temporary exhibition. Just ask for a combination ticket at the front desk.
Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock
Fundació Miró, until February 24th, 2013
€7 (temporary exhibition);
€10 (temporary + permanent exhibition)
Catalogue: Magnus af Petersens, Julia Robinson, Ming Tiampo, Explosió! El llegat de Jackson Pollock (texts in Catalan, Spanish and English), Fundació Miró, 2012; 212 pages, €35.