Conservation of Jackson Pollock’s Mural

Our challenge in conservation is always to keep in
mind the artist’s intent. What did Pollock intend? What did he want us to see? How did he want his
painting presented? [LAURA RIVERS]
By the time the painting arrived at the University
of Iowa in 1951, it had been stretched
and unstretched, rolled and unrolled, at
least five times. That kind of stress on a
painting this large can cause significant structural
problems, as well as problems within the paint surface itself. By 1973, the
stretcher had cracked under the weight of the canvas,
and there was a notable sag. As part of the
conservation treatment, the secondary canvas
was adhered to the back of the original canvas,
consolidating the paint from behind with a wax
and resin adhesive. While this successfully
stabilized the paint, it also made the sag
a permanent feature, with the adhesive locking
the distortion into place. When the painting
was restretched, the distortion
meant that portions of the unpainted
tacking margins were now visible on the front
of the painting. Additionally, as part of
the conservation treatment, the painting was varnished. Pollock didn’t varnish
the painting originally. [YVONNE SZAFRAN]
By the time the painting arrives at the Getty it looks quite
different to the way it looked when it
left Pollock’s studio. Cleaning made a
tremendous difference, as the removal of
the varnish uncovered a variety of gloss and
matte effects resulting from Pollock’s innovative
paint applications. Removing the varnish
was the first step, dealing with the distortion
was a bit more complex. [LAURA RIVERS]
The first choice was to place the painting on
a rectangular stretcher, maintaining the edges as they
were after the 1973 treatment. The second choice was
to place the painting on a shaped stretcher,
returning the edges to something approximating what
they originally were. [YVONNE SZAFRAN]
We made the decision to place the painting back on
a shaped stretcher, a stretcher that returned the painting to
its historical edges, the edges that Pollock intended us to see. And by doing so, we returned
an energy to the painting, as well as reestablishing
the visual boundaries of the painting. And now the painting is
much closer in appearance to how it looked when
Pollock first painted it.

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