MAGNIFICENT GESTURES: MASTERWORKS FROM THE DIAMONSTEIN-SPIELVOGEL COLLECTION FULL PROCEEDS TO BENEFIT A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
(Clement Greenberg to Lee Krasner, 1951, cited in Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, New York, 1989, p. 678)
Dancing across the delicate paper surface with unspeakable lyricism, the sensuous curves and drips of Untitled exemplify the painterly finesse of Jackson Pollock at his most virtuosic, eloquent, and utterly brilliant. Executed in 1951, at the radiant pinnacle of Pollock’s inimitable artistic practice, Untitled is an exquisite example from the artist’s rare and cherished series of drawings in black and colored inks on specialized Japanese paper. Epitomizing the remarkable fusion of chance and control which has come to define Pollock’s iconic oeuvre, these ethereal compositions were the result of an innovative transfer technique the artist developed during this year, in which he lyrically dripped, stained, and pooled inks upon stacks of the absorbent papers, allowing the mediums to bleed through before flipping the upper sheet to additionally stain and rework those below; one of three works on paper from a single stack, the two sister compositions to Untitled are today held in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In their density of soaked color, the saturated inks achieving a dazzling chromatic vibrancy, these compositions demonstrate a mastery of hue that prefigures the artist’s seminal canvases of 1952, in which the pooled, puddled colors thrillingly vie for supremacy with line, the overwhelmingly dominant element of his earlier output. In further testament to the significance and unrivaled caliber of the present work, Untitled has been included in a number of the seminal exhibitions of Pollock’s oeuvre, including the major surveys Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, of 1968-1969; Jackson Pollock: Drawing into Painting, of 1979-1980, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the major retrospective Jackson Pollock, co-organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Gallery, London, in 1998-1999; and most recently, No Limits, Just Edges: Jackson Pollock Paintings on Paper, organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2005. Demonstrating a calligraphic elegance of form and motion virtually unrivaled within Pollock’s sensational oeuvre, Untitled stands as an exquisite and enduring testament to one of the Twentieth Century’s most profoundly momentous artistic legacies.
Within Pollock’s seminal and much storied chronology, 1951 is widely recognized to be among the artist’s most groundbreaking years; in the catalogue raisonné for the artist’s drawings, scholar Francis O’Connor distinguishes the year as “Pollock’s most important and productive year as a draftsman….for the first and only time in his career, the styles and preoccupations of his painting and drawing merge, both technically and aesthetically.” (F.V. O’Connor and E.V. Thaw, ed., Jackson Pollock: A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Drawings and Other Works, Volume 3: Drawings, 1930-1956, New Haven, 1978, p. 283) The year preceding the execution of the present work had been one of unprecedented prestige and acclaim for the artist: in January of 1950, the Museum of Modern Art in New York had acquired Pollock’s 1948 canvas Number 1A, and in June, he had been chosen by Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and Alfred Frankfurter as one of six artists to participate in an exhibition of young American painters in the U.S. Pavilion at the XXV Venice Biennale. In the wake of this transformative and pivotal year, however, Pollock found himself creatively adrift; executed in the first months of 1951, Untitled, alongside the other works on Japanese mulberry paper, prompted a crucial transformative shift for the artist, allowing him to explore negative space and abstract form in an entirely new light. The limited series was initiated by a gift of the imported Japanese papers from Pollock’s friend and contemporary, the sculptor Tony Smith, immediately following his solo exhibition at Betty Parsons Gallery in the last months of 1950; in a letter from January of 1951, Pollock describes the Japanese paper works as his only respite from a lingering melancholia, writing, “I hope this letter doesn’t seem so damned down and out – because I have been making some drawings on Japanese paper – and feel good about them.” (The artist in a letter to Alfonso Ossorio, cited in Exh. Cat., Tate Liverpool, Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, 2015, p. 104) In the short essay accompanying the present work in the exhibition catalogue for Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, Bernice Rose describes, “Pollock’s 1951 works on paper are notable for their dematerialization of medium and airy spaciousness…Now the only reminders of the physical quality of his previous work are virtual—the density of soaked color and the way in which one puddle of color overlays another, establishing a sense of discrete physical identity in spite of actual flatness.” (Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock: Works on Paper, 1969, p. 85) Continuing her description of the present work and of the significance of this series, Rose reflects, “These are among Pollock’s most painterly works, for their remarkable color more than for anything else. They are a prelude to the 1952 canvases in which the poured and puddled color-wash technique is transposed and the inherent ‘spreading’ quality of the stain takes over. Staining ink into paper had created the same kind of mark in drawing as it had in painting.” (Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock: Drawing into Painting, 1980, p. 64) Replacing the frenetic chorus of activated splatters which filled his canvases of the 1940s, the brilliant pools of color that slink and skitter across Untitled invoke such masterpieces as Blue Poles, in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Sydney and Convergence, of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, both masterworks created in the wake of Pollock’s triumphant return to action painting in 1952 after a sustained departure. Untitled, amongst the other Japanese paper works, served as the directional catalyst for these late masterpieces, allowing Pollock, in the words of Clement Greenberg, to “volatize in order to say something different from what he had to say during the four years before.” (Clement Greenberg, “Art Chronicle: Feeling is All,” Partisan Review, vol. 19, January—February 1952)
Alternatively surging in vigorous contours and sinking in saturated, shimmering pools, the vivid density of soaked color in Untitled demonstrates Pollock at his most unrestrainedly painterly; interwoven in complex skeins, the impenetrable ebony and incandescent orange and yellow of the inks infuse the paper sheet with a luminous glow, the discrete marks radiating both a bewitching heat and silky sensuality. In their insistent materiality – their irregular textures, absorbent capillary capacities, and vibrant hues—the Japanese mulberry papers presented Pollock with the thrilling opportunity to reconceptualize the role of drawing within his artistic practice. Barely unwrapping the stacks from their store packaging, the artist would begin to pour, drip, and stain the black and colored inks onto the top sheet, allowing the saturated liquid to soak from sheet to sheet in staccato blots and streaks; swiftly responding to the movement of the ink through the stack, Pollock would then remove the top sheet before enhancing and elaborating upon the existing design in the layers below, flipping each as he progressed to create an inverted mirror-image of the top sheet. The graceful choreography of Untitled, the original sheet, finds a ghostly echo in Untitled, of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Untitled, of the Museum of Modern Art, both sheets of paper which lay below within that particular stack; while both reflect the looping half-swirls, squiggles, dots, and splotches of the present work, the exquisite vibrancy of the original sheet is unrivaled. Describing the example held in the collection of MoMA, which likely lay directly or close below the present work, Stephanie Straine notes, “In drawings such as Untitled, c. 1951, Pollock moves beyond the linear to achieve a total mark/ground dissolution; an urgent, wriggling mass of layers of inks that have totally fused with—by soaking into—their paper support. It is this grounded, material resilience of drawing that requires new ways of thinking.” (Exh. Cat., Tate Liverpool, Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots, 2015, p. 101, p. 104) Indeed, in their intricate interplay of deliberate gesture and contingent abstraction, the Japanese paper drawings represent a crucial development upon Pollock’s earlier investigations into the role of chance in the ultimate resolution of a painting, influenced by his exposure to Jungian analysis and the Surrealism of such artists as Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy; while his earlier paintings enlist the gestural motion of the artist’s body to introduce chance into his canvases, Untitled transforms the standard relationship between mark and support to manifest the seductive freedom of chance within the very medium of the work itself.
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