April 29, 2004

MoMA to sell major Pollock

Lot number 17 in Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art auction on May 11 will be Number 12, by Jackson Pollock, estimated at $5m – $7m. It would be a prime asset in any collection:

An important painting made at the very apex of the artist's meteoric and turbulent career, Jackson Pollock's Number 12, 1949 is a seemingly complete world onto itself. It is a self-contained cosmos in paint made out of a myriad of interlaced swirls and streaks of vibrant color that weaves a constantly moving, almost evolving, complex pattern of painterly form and energy. Painted for his third exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery in November 1949--the breakthrough show that would effectively launch the artist's now legendary status--Number 12, 1949 is a work that both celebrates and explores Pollock's new-found freedom and mastery of the radical "drip" technique he had originated two summers before. It is also a work that formed part of a select group of Pollock's paintings chosen for the United States Pavilion at the 1950 Venice Biennale--an exhibition which was to have a radical and transforming effect on the development of much avant-garde European art in the early 1950s. Constructed using the full range of Pollock's seemingly magical fluid painterly language, the painting manages to articulate an emotional intensity from the gossamer-like threads of the gestural drips and meandering lines of its enamel paint. Though it is not a large painting--Pollock painted very few large works in 1949--Number 12 is, nevertheless, one of the most intense and complete statements in the artist's oeuvre.

Maybe a generous philanthropist should try to buy the painting and donate it to the Museum of Modern Art? Maybe not. For, it turns out, MoMA is the seller of this major work. Carol Vogel raises no eyebrows in her New York Times piece, but isn't this highly irregular?

Posted by Felix at 03:56 AM GMT


Not really, I'm not familiar with the work but the price seems low. It may be important but not considered a central work. Regardless, owners very often loan works for display.


Posted by: Gherimiah on April 29, 2004 12:31 PM

They're making room for my "Self Portrait with Korean Twins", which is from my blue period and costs an absolute fortune. The Korean twins, that is, but it was worth it.

Posted by: Jame on April 29, 2004 12:40 PM

Gherm, according to this page, the auction record for a Pollock in the past four years is $7.25 million. Now I'm sure that if "Blue Poles" or "Autumn Mist" came up for auction they would get one hell of a lot more, but $5-7m for a painting which is less than 3'x2' in size seems a lot of money to me. By contrast, "Black and White/Number 6", which set that $7.25m record, is twice the size of "Number 12" in both dimensions -- four times the size over all. So if a much smaller painting has essentially the same estimate as the work which set the record for a Pollock at auction, I wouldn't say the price seems low.

Posted by: Felix on April 29, 2004 01:02 PM

Oops, I guess that new antiblogspam rules don't allow links in comments any more. I'm talking about http://www.artistsearch.com/artists/JACKSON_POLLOCK.htm and http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/polsky/polsky5-9-9.asp

Posted by: Felix on April 29, 2004 01:04 PM

That's right Felix, Pollock sells by the square foot. Maybe we at MemeFirst can buy all six square feet of Number 12, cut it up into 864 square inches and sell them online for $7000 each.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on April 29, 2004 01:28 PM

Stefan, you doofus. If you knew anything about the art market at all, you'd know that there is an incredibly strong correlation between price and size, to the point where huge second-rate paintings by many artists often sell for significantly more than smaller masterpieces by the same person.

Posted by: Felix on April 29, 2004 02:41 PM

I'm surprised about the price history. I was looking at it in terms of the sums that have been spent on contemporary artists like Rauchenberg, Johns, Stella, DeKooning etc.

Perhaps I'm off, but I'd think that an important iconic work would be somewhere in the 15 to 20 million range. I don't think the Rothko sold, but they wanted 15 million.

On the other hand perhaps people don't care much for paint flingers after all. Although as far as I'm concerned twarn't no man could ever fling paint like Pollack.


Posted by: Gherimiah on April 29, 2004 03:08 PM

No, Gherm, you're absolutely right. I should imagine that if one of the huge late drip paintings ever came up for auction, it would go for an absolute fortune -- $50m wouldn't surprise me, and possibly even more, given how they're all locked up in major museums. Vogel was talking about Sotheby's blue period Picasso going for $70m+, and maybe even breaking the $100m barrier -- and I have a feeling that given the choice between that painting and, say, Blue Poles, many major collectors would choose the latter. I'm no art-market expert, but the big Pollock drip paintings are some of the most powerful and famous paintings ever made, and are instantly recognisable to millions of people in the way that no DeKooning or Rauschenberg is.

Posted by: Felix on April 29, 2004 03:31 PM

that's interesting felix; there is also an extremely strong correlation between value and length in your postings on this site.

Posted by: eurof on April 29, 2004 04:20 PM

Correction to my comment #8: That should be pink period Picasso, not blue.

Posted by: Felix on April 29, 2004 06:50 PM