by Mark Brown, Arts correspondent from The Guardian, April 15, 2016
A cropped image of Jackson Pollock’s Mural, 1943. Photograph: Rebecca Vera-Martinez/The Pollock-Krasner Foundation
Two of Jackson Pollock’s most important and biggest works will be sent from Australia and the US to be united for the first and probably only time in a landmark London show on abstract expressionism.
The Royal Academy of Arts will stage this autumn the first overarching show in the UK on the American art movement since a Tate exhibition in 1958.
One of the highlights will be the display of Pollock’s monumental Mural, 1943, on loan from the University of Iowa Museum of Art, alongside the almost as vast Blue Poles, 1952, from the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, (1952), on loan from Canberra. Photograph: © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY
The show’s co-curator, David Anfam, hopes it will prove a fascinating juxtaposition. He described the works as Pollock’s “Pillars of Hercules”.
Exceeding 6 metres (19.8ft) in width, Mural was the largest painting Pollock ever painted. It was hung in the hallway of the New York townhouse of the patron Peggy Guggenheim.
It was a turning point for American art. “Mural jumpstarted abstract expresssionism,” said Anfam. “Within two years of it being installed … everyone in the New York art world had seen it. And then we have an amazing coup, Pollock’s barnstorming swansong of 1952, Blue Poles. They book-end Pollock’s career. I have not the slightest doubt that when Pollock was doing Blue Poles he thought back to Mural.”
Mural has been in London before, in 1993, but at that time it was “filthy”, Anfam said. “It was under a layer of varnish which had been applied in the 1970s – it was basically brown.” The seminal work was conserved two years ago in Los Angeles and, Anfam said, had “literally been reborn.”
Clyfford Still’s oil entitled PH-950, dated 1950. Photograph: Ben Blackwell/Clyfford Still Museum, Denver © City and County of Denver
The Pollocks will hang in the RA’s biggest room with other works, including examples of the drip paintings Pollock is most famous for. Anfam hopes the exhibition will offer a “mini-retrospective” of the artist’s career.
There will be more than 150 paintings sculptures and photographs in the show, with a particular focus on the movement’s pioneers – Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Clyfford Still.
The show, which will go to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, will explore how abstract expressionists moved the centre of the art world from Paris to New York. It will also re-examine the two strands into which the artists are generally grouped: Pollock and de Kooning as the “action painters”; Rothko and Barnett Newman as colour-field painters.
While there have been immensely popular British shows devoted to the individual artists – for example Pollock in 1999 and Rothko in 2008, each at the Tate – there has not been a major show looking at the movement as a whole for nearly 60 years.
Amfan said it was a lot for galleries to take on. “The subject is so daunting and complex, it is almost too formidable to have been done,” he said.
Tim Marlow, the RA’s director of exhibitions, said: “In a sense the time has now come, the monographic displays have been made, now it is time to put it all together.”
Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 24 September - 2 January.
This article was written by Mark Brown Arts correspondent from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.