November 8, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Videos
Jackson Pollock Asks: “Is This a Painting?”

Jackson Pollock. One: Number 31, 1950. 1950. Oil and enamel paint on canvas, 8' 10" x 17' 5 5/8" (269.5 x 530.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art. Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange). © 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Pollock at MoMA, uploaded to Flickr on Feburary 11, 2009:

In one of the videos we produced for the current Abstract Expressionist New York exhibition, Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of MoMA’s Department of Painting and Sculpture and the organizer of the exhibition, tells this story about Jackson Pollock:

When he was at his studio in the Springs in Long Island, he asked his wife, Lee Krasner, to come look at what he had done, and he asked her, “ Is this a painting?”—not, is this a good painting, or is this a great painting—he wasn’t even sure […if] it was a painting. And I think it’s something about operating at the edge of that cliff that is so moving, and still today so breathtaking, about what Pollock and his colleagues were doing. They literally were taking painting to a place that they didn’t even know where they were bringing it….

With that one story, I suddenly understood the enormity of the leap that Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and others had taken into the unknown of what painting could be. I thought about Pollock bending over the canvas stretched out before him, and losing himself in the process of painting—and how it was the process that was meaningful to him. And the outcome, well, maybe it was a painting and maybe it wasn’t.

The Abstract Expressionist artists’ emphasis on materials and process is the reason we created a series of videos on the painting techniques of five painters—Pollock, Newman, Rothko, Franz Kline and Ad Reinhardt.

Even today, more than half a century later, these paintings are difficult. They demand a lot from us. They ask us to stop, to spend time, to get close, to get out of our ordinary habits of looking and to attend to materials, scale, space, and surface in an unprecedented way. We hope that these videos help visitors to recognize the complexity of these works, which often appear deceptively simple.