In January 2013 the GCI organized with the Paintings Conservation Department of the J. Paul Getty Museum an experts' meeting of conservators to discuss the ongoing study and treatment of Jackson Pollock's Mural (1943). The painting, in the collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, is at the Getty for a two-year project of conservation and research undertaken by the GCI and the Museum's Paintings Conservation Department. The aim of the project is to improve the painting's aesthetic impact and to stabilize its physical structure, while contributing to a larger understanding of the materials and techniques used by the artist during the critical early moment in his career when the painting was made.
The last conservation of Mural, in 1973, included a wax-resin lining treatment that successfully mitigated a long history of flaking. However, the conservation also locked into place a sag in the canvas, resulting in a misalignment of the painted image with its rectangular stretcher. In addition, a varnish applied during this treatment has become dull, masking the vibrancy of many of the colors and obscuring the subtle variations of gloss one might expect from such a varied surface. Structurally, the 1973 stretcher is unable to support the considerable weight of the lined canvas.
At the experts' meeting, fifteen conservators from North America and Europe—all with knowledge and experience of Pollock's work or experience in treating large paintings—were invited to view the painting and engage in conversation about the painting's aesthetic and structural conservation issues—discussions that will guide the work of the Getty team. Although many aspects related to the Getty's study were covered, two of the more important discussions concerned options for addressing the misalignment of the painted image with the current stretcher, and addressed the extent to which the original architectural setting of the painting (the New York home of Peggy Guggenheim) should be replicated in any future display.
Scientific and scholarly research undertaken by the GCI and the Getty Museum will focus on the materials and techniques used by the artist, with the aim of determining if any of the well-known characteristics of Pollock's later work—such as the use of house paints and his placement of the canvas on the floor while he painted—were part of his working methods in creating Mural. Archival research and early documentary photographs of the painting will inform the conservation treatment and the direction of the technical study.
In March 2014 the painting will be exhibited for three months at the Getty Museum; a second gallery will display technical research from the project, alongside a discussion of the choices made in the current treatment. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication and a study day for conservators, curators, art historians, and Pollock scholars.
The January 2013 experts' meeting was made possible by the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.