Where Is One? MoMA’s Jackson Pollock Conservation Project

Installation view of Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950, at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 1950. Oil and enamel paint on canvas. Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection Fund (by exchange). © 2012 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Recent visitors to The Museum of Modern Art may have found themselves wandering through the Painting and Sculpture Galleries unable to shake the sense that something is awry. Beyond the periodic rotations of the collection, something had changed. Or maybe you’re the die-hard Jackson Pollock aficionado who discovered the truth of it right away: making directly for the fourth floor, edging out the crowd for the chance at a few solitary minutes of contemplation opposite Pollock’s encompassing mural, One: Number 31, 1950, only to find the painting off view for the first time since the Museum reopened in 2004. Excuse me, where is One?

Now, removing such an iconic work from public view will surely disappoint more than a handful of visitors, so this blog is dedicated to explaining that absence and trying to fill it with an extended look at One and several other Pollocks paintings. In the coming year (give or take), Pollock’s One will be cloistered in the Museum’s Department of Conservation, where it will undergo examination, documentation, analysis, and conservation treatment. What each of those steps entails will be documented in this blog over the coming months—so let’s start at the beginning.

We are frequently asked how and when we decide to embark on a conservation treatment. This is often a function of exhibition schedules, getting a work in condition for an exhibition here at MoMA or elsewhere. Some restorations are simple, and others are more complex and require a great deal of time and advance planning.

Jennifer Hickey examines Jackson Pollock’s One: Number 31, 1950

Exhibitions themselves can be the impetus for considering conservation of a work, as they offer unique opportunities to compare related works directly. During the 1998 Jackson Pollock retrospective at MoMA we were able to do this, and at that time we were able to see subtle variations in the tonality across the canvas of three paintings executed between 1948 and 1951: Number 1A, 1948; One: Number 31, 1950; and Echo: Number 25, 1951. These paintings share a number of characteristics in their conception and construction. All, for example, date to the period when Pollock eschewed painting at the easel, brush to canvas, and chose instead to spread his canvas across the studio floor, standing and crouching over it as he dropped, dripped, and poured his paint. In none of these paintings did he paint out the entire surface, allowing exposed fabric to serve as a part of the finished composition. Beyond these similarities, we’ll be looking closely at the differences that require each painting, in the end, to be considered on its own terms.

Each work has its own condition problems that will ultimately require different modes of documentation and treatment, which we will detail for you as the project unfolds. Aside from periodically jazzing up your morning coffee/Google Reader routine, this blog will be your VIP, backstage pass into the workings of MoMA conservation: the research, experimentation, innovation, and collaboration that conservators bring together to care for the Museum’s collection.

So whether One’s temporary absence has left a roughly 150-square-foot hole in your heart, or you’d just like to know more about what conservators do, let these posts be your guide.