Pollock's Alchemy rediscovered. At the Guggenheim until April 6th

After an absence of over twelve months, Alchemy by Jackson Pollock returns to the Collection where it has been on display since 1949. The exhibition aims at documenting the processes required for the examination, cleaning and conservation of the painting,  together with the artist’s working process, basic materials, and offers a new insight into Pollock’s way of painting.  

 Luciano Pensabene Buemi is the curator of this exhibit and Conservator of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, who suggested to display the canvas without glass or plexiglas only for the duration of the exhibition, in order to enliven the brightness and vividness of the painted texture.

 Mr. Pensabene was trained at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (literally meaning Workshop of semi-precious stones) in Florence, a leading institute in the field of art conservation in Italy, as well as at the Laboratory of Restoration in Rome.  

Among the many departments, the Contemporary Art section of the Opificio in Florence is very recent, as so far it was mostly engaged at preserving the huge and centuries old national artistic heritage.   The fund raising campaign fostered by Peggy Guggenheim Collection encouraged the prestigious workshop to restore a 20th c. painting, and start a new deal in the history of the Opificio.  

Alchemy dates from 1947, soon after “The Enchanted Forest” and “Eyes in the Heat”, both part of the Collection. The canvas was not purchased in a store, but it was cut out of a white cotton curtain decorated with a few pale red roses that are still visible on the back of it. Pollock used regular scissors and in fact the edges are irregular, nailed to the original wooden framework.  

The 3D devices revealed an original white/light gray layer of opposed brushstrokes, creating a vibrant surface as he was walking around the canvas. Then Pollock let the liquid industrial colors drop from above, especially the red, blue and white, followed by yellow tempera and a final red oil paint, directly squeezed from the tube. In total he used eight pounds of paint and 19 different pigments, which took roughly a week to dry. In particular the oil ones required at least 2-3 days.  

The “texture” is quite thick and rough,  due to some sand and small pebbles scattered throughout the surface, in order to enhance the physical aspect of the materials used, while there are neither strings nor wooden pieces, like in the French collages.  

The painting was on display at Peggy’s home without any protection until the 1980’s, which made possible the development of all sorts of bacteria, especially molds, thick dust, a few fungus and sea crystals, due to the proximity to the Grand Canal.  

Our advice is no to miss the experience of examining from very close this large-scale masterpiece, one of earliest examples of poured painting, and appreciate Pollock’s revolutionary technique.

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