It’s been said there was painting before Jackson Pollock and there’s painting after Jackson Pollock. His radical “action” paintings in the late ’40s, early ’50s have been that influential — even helping to shift the center of avant-garde art from Paris to New York. The Dallas Museum of Art opens a retrospective on him today. Such exhibitions have been rare since Pollock’s death in 1956 – even as his splattered canvases have sold for millions. Art & Seek’s Jerome Weeks sat down with Justin Martin to explain how and why this path-breaking show came about.
Earlier this week, we aired your story on ‘Blind Spots,’ the new Jackson Pollock exhibition opening today at the DMA. But you’ve told me how the show developed also intrigued you.
And what did you find out?
Have you gotten around to reading it?
Delahunty: “And so it haunted me all this time. All curators have fantasy projects and they have little folders in little files and Pollock was always there. But how could I tell the world something new about the most famous American artist?”
Good question. So what did he do?
Why? I could see with Pollock’s reputation – you know, the macho drinking and brawling and dying young in a car wreck – that some serious artists would want to avoid all that. But that’s not what he’s talking about, is it?
After that, what was left for painters to do? What could they do that was new? That’s why they’ve been running away from him. With Pop Art, conceptual art, performance art, they let imagery and irony and everything else flood back in. So Delahunty had to do the reverse, excavating through all that history to get to Pollock.
Delahunty: “All the way back to your first question, how does a country boy from the west coast of Ireland arrive at curating only the third, ever, major Pollock exhibition in America — it’s because I needed that time, myself. I needed to go through all the different modes of painting that have taken place to say to myself, ‘He was definitely on to something.’”
What Delahunty found were the black paintings, these are late Pollocks that were seen as disappointments at the time. In them, Pollock reduced painting to the extreme – it’s just naked black paint on raw canvas. But he also began re-introducing figures, symbols. Delahunty’s show earned some great reviews in England, and one put it best, I think. It’s like Pollock gave up jazz improvisations and re-discovered the blues.