It's near impossible to stand in front of Jackson Pollock's Mural and not think about this All-American genius, about his tumultuous life, and the legends of him finishing his large drip paintings just within a few intense hours of inspired dancing and waltzing around the canvas. Next week, the Getty Museum will unveil Pollock's newly restored Mural, which he painted for Peggy Guggenheim, his major patron. She commissioned the artist to do this mural for the entrance of her New York apartment in 1943, and, later, in 1951, donated it to The University of Iowa.
Since its completion, this monumental painting has gone through several restorations. And here comes the latest - conservators of the J. Paul Getty Museum, in collaboration with their colleagues at The Getty Conservation Institute, just completed an intense study and treatment of this mural. The whole process took them close to two years. Next week, this milestone painting will be put on view at The Getty Museum for three months until June 1.
Several days ago, I had the rare privilege to see this seminal painting while it was still in the Conservation Lab. Yes, I almost pressed my nose against the canvas. Seeing the mural that close, it was impossible not to get a little bit drunk with the wild brushstrokes exploding in my face. After layers of aging varnish were removed, the original colors of the painting come across as a big surprise. The palette of this early mural is more romantic and subtle than what we traditionally encounter in Pollock's later, iconic drip paintings. You might disagree with me, but, after seeing this early Mural up close and personal, I've come to the conclusion that his genius was in full bloom much earlier than previously assumed.
Here is another artistic adventure I want to share with you. The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park is hosting exhibitions of two established LA-based artists, F. Scott Hess and Manfred Müller. The work of these two artists couldn't be more different. Scott Hess is a figurative painter, and Manfred Müller is mostly an abstract painter and sculptor.
In a surprising decision for a young, aspiring American artist, Hess chose, in the late 1970's, to go to Europe for several years to study figurative painting in Vienna. The result is an unusual blend of Old Master technique with a generous dollop of Surrealism; all that coming to a virtual boil, thanks to a unique, purposefully disturbing palette of slightly rancid colors. There is a palpable sensation that each person depicted by the artist has experienced something close to an electric shock. It's up to us, the viewers, to guess what's actually happening in front of our eyes. Scott Hess' phantasmagorical paintings disturb, surprise, and intrigue me in equal measure. And, I am grateful to him for that.
German-born Manfred Müller crossed the Atlantic and chose to live here in LA at roughly the same time that Scott Hess left for Europe. And for both artists, this uprooting was a transformative experience. The severe geometry of Müller's paper wall sculptures and paper drawings is balanced by the surprisingly vulnerable and intimate texture of the paper, his favorite medium.
The way the artist uses color in his abstract sculptures – be it sparkling white, indigo blue, or flaming red – makes us experience these sculptures as three-dimensional paintings. In the series of his prints, Müller combines black and white photographs with a large rectangle of solid color, sometimes intense and bright, sometimes rather muted. But, a sense of mystery and journey is always there: Where are we? Where are we going? How is it going to end? One can only guess…
Banner image: Jackson Pollock's Mural, 1943; The Conservation Department of The J. Paul Getty Museum. All photos by Edward Goldman