Hello from the Getty Conservation Institute: Jackson Pollock’s Mural

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Friday 6 September 2013
Sarah Hillary

Last week I met Yvonne Szafran, head of paintings conservation at the Getty Museum. She told me a little about the joint Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) project to treat the iconic Jackson Pollock painting Mural from Iowa State University. The painting was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim in 1943 and is widely recognised as having a crucial influence on the development of the abstract expressionist movement.

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Image credit: Tom Learner and Alan Phenix examining Jackson Pollock's Mural. Photo: © J. Paul Getty Trust. Art: University of Iowa Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1959.6. Reproduced with permission from The University of Iowa.

Mural is absolutely stunning in the flesh with its dynamic layering of colour and the environment it creates due to the huge size (approximately 2438 x 6096mm). The painting is in good condition, but in the past it was varnished, which is at odds with Pollock’s technique, dust had settled on the surface making it dirty, another canvas had been adhered to the back (called ‘lining’), and it had been stretched onto a new stretcher (or supporting frame). The new stretcher is almost square but the painting is not, so unpainted edges are now visible having quite an effect on its appearance.

The GCI are using this opportunity to find out more about Pollock’s painting technique and to provide vital information to inform the treatment process. Several of the scientists have been involved, including Tom Learner and Alan Phenix, who you have heard about in my earlier blogs.

Currently the painting is located in a large table in the paintings conservation studio. It has already undergone several forms of analysis and been cleaned by conservators Laura Rivers and Lauren Bradley. The next step is to see if it can be safely restretched onto a new, sturdier stretcher that is better suited to support the great weight of the painting.

You can find out more information about this project on the Getty blog or see photographs and a video on the Wall Street Journal.