(Berlin.) 11 a. m., the end of November, and winter’s come to Berlin. Through icy winds we carve our way to Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle where, standing shivering in the atrium, we wonder why the blizzard has not yet amassed heaps of snow on that wide glass roof. And if it did, would the structure prove as solid as Deutsche Bank shares?
We’ve told you about the venue before, and this time even the art is fine.
Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle’s new show is on Jackson Pollock, and more specifically his great mural Mural (...). We soon caught ourselves familiarly calling it “Muriel”, “Muriel the Mural”. Jackson Pollock fathered her in 1943, some years before he invented his trademark Drip Painting technique (and anyways, Mural has reached an age now when dripping couldn’t be surprizing). Mural is not actually a mural, but painted on canvas, but who would care about such trifles?
Originally commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim for that spare wall in her New York flat, it didn’t fit into the removals van when settling again in Europe, so she left it with the Iowa Museum of Art. Deutsche Bank’s exhibition is curated by David Anfam of Denver’s Clyfford Stills Museum, and at the opening reception they did their best to convince us of the work’s exceptional position in 20th Century Art History, talking a lot about inspiration and influence, about what came before and what followed after. Fortunately, the exhibition itself proves up to those claims.
It starts with some historic documents: a letter of Jackson to his brother Charles Pollock on his accepting the commission, a historic gallery show invitation. Jackson Pollock drew much inspiration from Mexican murals by the likes of Diego Rivera, mainly for their horizontally aligned groups of people, and in 1943 he visited MOMA’s “Action Photography” show to admire the Pictorialism of Aaron Siskind, Gijon Mili, Borlano Morgan or Peter Keetman. Today we find their works on a wall at Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle. If you’re not too familiar with them, just think Man Rays made by others (he himself is absent). Forms in/and motion, not unrelated to Futurist painting. Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of horses and men (late 19th Century) - also missing, yet there is something very much alike from Gijon Mili featuring Alfred Hitchcock – provided the blueprint for Mural, which itself is roughly recognisable as a procession of stick men. You could also say, take 2 fl. oz. of photography, 1 fl. oz. of Guernica, 1.5 fl. oz. Latin American/Egyptian Pyramid murals, add some slices of Delauney and a spoonful of Nymphéas (the rare, abstract, type), stir with ice, and you get – well something at least remotely similar to Mural.
The exhibition further claims connections to Richard Motta (Like Me Like X, 1942) and Charles Seeliger (Homage to Charles Darwin, 1945/1946), but those look rather like the sort of surrealism Simon Hantaï was into at the same time. Pollock’s own Untitled Panels A-D (1934-38) is much closer related to Mural (and to those abstract Nymphéas again - Marmottan explicitly compared Pollock to Monet’s experiments in early abstraction once), unlike his figurative Untitled (Naked Man), 1938-41. Inspirations slowly mix with followers, with the walking Stick Figures of David Smith’s Untitled (Tank Totems), 1953, a small Lee Krassner – she was married to Pollock -: Promenade, 1960, and Frederick Summer: Untitled, 1945.
Finally, Mural itself. The hanging is brilliant: We see Bird Effort (61x51 cm, 1946), Circumcision (142.3x168 cm, 1946) and Mural (605x247 cm, 1943) in a row like a disassembled Russian Doll. Pollock used the same colours for all of them, yet they differ in detail. Bird Effort, the smallest, seems the less abstract, and the most related to Cubism. Mural features the least figurative elements (they’re still there, though), whilst Circumcision fits perfectly in the middle, in size and style. A similar observation can be made for the colours. They are the same in all cases, indeed, but in Mural they are the least strongly applied, paler, washed out, and again Bird Effort forms the counterpoint with strong and more defined colours.
The Picasso link is evident in another painting hanging to the side of these three, Icarus (1945/46) (not unlike Miro either). Mural reappears in Portrait of HM (1946) that has those stick figures no longer marching in line, but shattered about. If Mural shows a military formation, this would be the image after a bomb drop (there is speculation, HM refers to Hermann Melville, so it would rather be a maritime disaster than an explosion). Robert Motherwell intended his Elegy to the Spanish Republic, N 126 (1965-75) as an in situ tribute to Mural, to hang in the same room at Iowa Museum; it appears like a cleaned up, x-ray, image of Pollock’s work. Motherwell flayed Mural, and Lee Krassner recycled the bloody skin into Another Storm (1963). This is the only explanation we can come up with for the latter’s presence in the show.
David Smith is there again with another Tank Totem, this time in sculpture (#stick figures #Cubism #Primitivism) and although the lines in Andy Warhol’s Yarn (is this one of those he created by using actual yarn threads?) are not vertical, there still is some sort of influence visible - maybe more of other Pollocks than of Mural. The same goes for David Reeds #600-3 of 2006-09/2012 (what a name/date combo), a painting in '80s graffiti colours. It has the letter “M” in it.
And that’s it. Or almost, as above the museum shop we discover a film corner with a documentary on Pollock, and visitors can digitally create their own Pollockish sketches, sponsored by a software company. At least we know now what OS Deutsche Bank computers are running on. Those sketches, well, knowing people, and knowing what people tend to do if you give them a pencil and a paper, or just a pencil, there arises the question who at Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle is charged with filtering out the penises. The remaining printouts cover the walls of that screening room, and some of it really looks like Pollock. - You think, Knoedler could...?
The show’s full title is Jackson Pollock’s Mural: Energy Made Visible, and we couldn’t think of a better slogan for an electricity supplier. But this is our only complaint here. It’s a show with a clear idea, and it follows it through thoroughly. It’s pro. Visit. Then go, and open that account. Or a second one. For our part, we’ve bought the catalogue (with press discount). We had to leave the building first, though: there’s no ATM at Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle.
Jackson Pollock’s Mural: Energy Made Visible, 25 November 2015-10 April 2016, Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle Berlin